Echoes of the Trail came to be an event of international stature, and we’ve received inquiries and postings from around the world of folks interested in America’s cowboy heritage. Poets and singers who traveled to Fort Scott every June came from Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska, and many other states across the cattle country. The Missouri Cowboy Poets Association came to view Echoes as an annual gathering place where members could meet, share stories and poems and celebrate their mutual passion of cowboy culture. We met and befriended folks who came as audience, who identified with the values and history of the cowboy; people we saw each year and looked forward to seeing again. Our event was all locally sponsored; we never received grant funding or major corporate backing as do most similar events. All our successes came through the backing of Fort Scott and Bourbon County people, businesses, and civic agencies, real people who appreciated Fort Scott’s historic place in the Western legacy.
But this final weekend was also bittersweet, as we recalled and remembered those who have graced the Round Room stage, and those who have been workers in the organization and have passed on. Gary Wimmer, ever an educator, left a legacy of encouraged youngsters to write and submit poems for Echoes, and was tireless in his support and key to organizing Echoes in the year prior to his passing. A photo board of those we remember was on display last weekend and it was a sobering moment to reflect on those names and faces of those we knew and loved – the great Harold Carpenter, a loyal friend and encourager to the Echoes committee for many years, was sorely missed. As was Kenny Gordon, whose chuck wagon lent atmosphere and authenticity to a cowboy weekend in Fort Scott each June for several years. Jack DeWerf, Leroy Watts, Buzz Benson, Jerry Schleicher, Duane Feighner … the list goes on. As does the list of donors and local supporters including Vicky O’Bryan, Keitha Bohlander, Frank Emery, Harold Palmer, Bob Galvin, Jess Black, and Laura Hyer, along with vendors like Shirley Willis, Kathy Lester, B.E. Eichorn, and Rowdy Yates, who marked their calendars for the annual trip to Fort Scott. These losses were punctuated this weekend by performances by Oklahoma poet trey Allen, whose first and last Echoes visit was marked by his daughters who helped him to the stage with an oxygen tank and stood by as his frail, myeloma-ridden body softly recited heart-felt emotions and reflections on the cowboy way. Echoes’ favorite Gal Burton’s daughter and son-in-law brought him to the final Echoes. “It’s terminal,” he said of his diagnosis, “but they don’t say how long the terminal is …” Poets and singers through the weekend paid fitting tribute to mark the end of 20 years’ gatherings of celebration.
So, to all who have ever breathed a word of encouragement (and there have been many) and to all who have donated funds, time, effort and resources to Echoes of the Trail over these 20 years (again, many), my deepest and most heartfelt thank you.”
Johnny Kendrick, Co-founder