Ogden • At 14 years old and 5 feet 5 inches tall, cowboy poet Thatch Elmer may have to physically look up to many of his cohorts, but there are plenty who admiringly look up to him.
His young age is an attention-getter in a genre most followed by cowboys older than 55, followers say. But Thatch also holds his own when called upon to perform his classic poetry.
The Harrisville cowboy travels throughout the country to cowboy poetry events each year, causing him to miss about a month of school days this year at Wahlquist Junior High where he’s an eighth-grader.
Cowboy poetry is a type of folk poetry associated with the lifestyle of cattle ranching in western North America. The subjects are usually about how people, horses and cattle do or don’t get along.
Sam DeLeeuw, Roy “cowgal” poet and winner of the Cowboy Poetry Book of the Year by the Western Music Association, said she first met Thatch when he was 9, right before his first public performance at a cowboy poetry gathering open mic in Heber City.
“He was so short, all I saw was the top of his cowboy hat,” DeLeeuw said.
He approached her and invited her to hear him recite his poetry, she said.
“I about dropped my cookies,” she said about her reaction to hearing him, noting her surprise at his natural ability. “Here’s this little guy with so much poise already.”
In the five years since he’s done nothing but grow, she said.
“Right now, he’s the 14-year-old and some people might think it’s a novelty, but I think he’s as genuine as he could be,” said Tom Swearingen, a noted cowboy poet from Tualatin, Oregon, near Portland.
“When the cute kid wears off, he’ll still be one of the best reciters and writers of the poetry.”
The winner of the Western Music Association male cowboy poet of the year for the past two years, Floyd Beard of southeast Colorado said Thatch was “the real deal.”
“He’s an excellent cowboy poet,” Beard said. “He’s also working really hard at being a good hand.”
Beard said a year ago some poor health kept him from being able to do a performance. He sent Thatch in his place.
“He stepped in and did my night show for me because I couldn’t make it,” Beard said. “I heard from some that he did an excellent job.”
Thatch says his career, which he started at age 9, is well worth the effort.
“I didn’t realize it was going to take me this far,” Thatch said. “I’ve seen so many cool places and met cool people.”
In the past year, he’s traveled to Nevada, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, New Mexico and all around Utah.
Last year, Thatch was booked for 55 performances, said his father, Brad Elmer. The year before, he was asked to perform 60 times.
Thatch has performed for gatherings, festivals, celebrations, fairs and private shows all across the United States.
A working ranch cowboy and horseman, Thatch trains four of his own horses and five of a neighbor’s. He enjoys ranch horse programs and team roping.
“I live the cowboy life every day,” Thatch said.
“I want people to know there are still cowboys out there. Cowboys are not just something you see in movies. If there weren’t cowboys, you wouldn’t be able to go eat a steak.”
Thatch said he enjoys exposing people to the western lifestyle.
Sometimes that exposure is sorely needed, Elmer said.
“It’s pretty sad when you go somewhere in your boots and hat and people tell you they like your costume,” Elmer said. “It’s not a costume. It’s a way of life.”
Thatch was one of three cowboy poets featured this week during performances at the Weber County Library’s Cowboy Poetry Week.
Some of his more notable performances include reciting the National Anthem at the Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo last summer on the night of the National Day of the American Cowboy, Elmer said.
He was featured during a pops concert as part of the Days of ’47 Rodeo, performing with the Utah Symphony and the Choral Arts Society of Utah, Elmer said.
Thatch received his first scholarship in his first year of performing on the stage at 9. He was the first recipient of the Rod McQueary/Sue Wallis memorial scholarship, Elmer said. He was given a $500 award to help travel to become a cowboy poet.
Among the most noteworthy recognition was an article in the Western Horseman Magazine.
“We call it the Sports Illustrated of the western world,” Elmer said.