Italian Cowboys at the greatest celebration of the American West – The 29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering

Elko, Nevada – The 29th National Poetry Gathering was a week-long celebration of culture, tradition, and life of the rural West in the United States, bringing together American cowboys with special guests from Italy.

Unlike what it may seem to be, this is not stereotypical “Spaghetti Westerns” movies by the great Italian directors of the 1960s, but rather of a gathering of real cowboys who make rural life and ranching culture their daily existence.
For the 29th consecutive year, the Elko gathering organized by the Western Folklife Center, proclaimed “National Cowboy Poetry Gathering” by the U.S. Senate in 2000, was celebrated from January 28 to February 2, 2013. The essence of the American West featuring traditional and contemporary arts, poems, music, photography, film, food and much more stories, attracted thousands of people from all over the country and beyond.
  Traditional “buttero” clothes on display at the Western Folklife Center in Elko

  Traditional “buttero” clothes on display at the Western Folklife Center in Elko

  In the 1980s, folklorists in the West studying the long tradition of poems and songs written by cowboys about their life and work, thought “why don’t we put together a festival of cowboy poetry?” They picked Elko, Nevada, the center of many cattle ranches, as well as a rich source for still active gold mining.  January was chosen because this is the time in winter when ranchers don’t have much work to do.
As professor David Stanley explained to me on our trip from Salt Lake City to Elko, since the first year of the festival organizers were surprised by how many people from different States and how many journalists came to write stories about it, becoming so successful that within five years 8.000 people attended the event.
Every other year, cowboys and artists from foreign countries are invited at the Gathering as a special cultural exchange. Past participants have come from Mongolia, Argentina, Mexico, Canada, Australia, France, Hungary, the British Isles, and even Hawaii, giving special attention also to  women and family life.
   The entrance of the exhibition “Italian Buckaroos: Old World & New World” 

This year, the Western Folklife Center has welcomed for the first time in its history, cowboys from Italy, with a series of event focused on the butteri from Maremma, their lifestyle, gears, music and cooking.  The permanent exhibition is titled “Italian Buckaroos: Old World & New World”, and of course the historic legacy of local Italian-American ranchers in Nevada.
Although Italy is famous in the States as the country of the Romans, romantic cities, and delicious food, Elko showed the intimate ranching soul of Italian tradition thanks to the butteri from Civitavecchia in the Maremma region, an extensive area running from south-western Tuscany to the northern Lazio, the “Maremma Laziale” that is where the seven special guests come from.
The protagonists are: Andrea “Drew” Mischianti, buttero, writer, organizers and co-curator of the Italian cultural exchange with the Elko community, as a long-time friend of local ranchers; his wife Natalia Estrada, buttera, photographer, filmmaker, co-curator of the exhibition; Giulio De Donatis, buttero and real Italian cowboy with a great passion and working experience in the West, alongside with wife Francesca Prato and their child Brando; chef Valerio De Donatis covering the culinary aspect of rural life; Gianluca Zammarelli, zampogna maker and player, director of Etnomalia School of Music, together with Marco Ruffo, accordion and tambourine player, featuring voice and lyrics of the old popular music tradition of Italy.
  Natalia Estrada, Drew Mischianti and Gianluca Zammarelli on stage at the Evento Italiano night

  Natalia Estrada, Drew Mischianti and Gianluca Zammarelli on stage at the Evento Italiano night

First of the series of events related to Italian culture, the Evento Italiano on Monday gave the chance to the public to familiarize with the foreign guests. As part of the group of Italian journalists, we were surprised to discover the familiarity of the butteri as Giulio and Drew with the cowboys, sharing similar thoughts, stories and jokes, referring to Maremma as the “beef country” of Italy.
Gianluca and Marco gave their first of many other musical shows to follow, introducing instruments such as a 50-year-old chitarra battente, zampogna (Italian bagpipe used by shepherds) existing in ten different kinds, ciaramella (flute from Basilicata), and organetto (little accordion). They performed traditional songs of Maremma, a serenade from Calabria, several typical zampogna tunes including a tarantella danced by Natalia Estrada (former professional dancer) with attendees, and stornelli di mietitura, famous popular singing poems in rhyme from the Province of Rome.
Between the highlights of the week, the culinary workshops with chef Valerio de Donatis, as “Italian Cow Country Cooking”, where he taught how to cook parts of the cow that ranchers throw away, preparing four dishes of the “poor cuisine”: acquacotta (vegetable soup), lingua salmistrata (tongue), coda alla vaccinara (tail), and ossobuco (veal shanks).
  Roberto Natalini of L’Italo-Americano with 3rd generation Italian-American cowboy Tom Tomera

  Roberto Natalini of L’Italo-Americano with 3rd generation Italian-American cowboy Tom Tomera

The “Tour of the Italian-American owned ranch” was an unforgettable and informative experience, during which we had the privilege to visit two wonderful farms of the welcoming Tomera family: the Moleen Ranch, and the Stone house.
At the present time the ranch is ruled by Tom Tomera, third generation Italian-American (whose grandfather Battista emigrated from Lucca to Eureka, Nevada in the 1879), his sweet wife Patsy, and their two daughters-cowgirls Sabrina and Susan, with the support of their husbands. Tom’s sister, Lucy Tomera, provided important information on the history and genealogy of the family.
The wonderful landscapes covered by snow, the extended land where horses and cows lives in peace, were just the beginning of an amazing tour, revealing at the end of the day a great lesson of hard working, family life, history and tradition, connecting from the roots Italian and American society.
  Ranching tradition by Drew Mischinati

  Ranching tradition by Drew Mischinati

 The Western Folklife Center with its exhibition “Italian Buckaroos” showed the buttero gear, tools, and clothing, as well as contemporary and historic photographs, artwork and video depicting life herding cattle in the Maremma. The exhibit at the Wiegand Gallery has also featured the rich legacy of numerous Italian-American families ranching in the American West, and will travel to arte Italia, Nevada’s premier Italian cultural arts center in Reno, Nevada, in September 2013.
 On the next editions of L’Italo-Americano, we will feature more stories and interviews from the Italian side of the 29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, that presented more than 50 poets, musicians and musical groups from the U.S., Canada and Italy.
 Visit for complete info and videos of the greatest celebration of the American West.

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