Each year, with its Cowboy Keeper Award©, the National Day of the Cowboy nonprofit organization has the great privilege of recognizing individuals, organizations, and projects that make or have made a significant contribution to the preservation of pioneer heritage and the promotion of cowboy culture. In 2016, those who have inspired such recognition are Glenn Ohrlin, Donnalyn Quintana, Cotton and Karin Rosser, John Prather, Joseph “Jo” Mora, and the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center.
Born in 1926, in Minnesota, Glenn Ohrlin heard cowboy songs on the radio and from friends and family as a boy. By age 5, he was singing himself and at 10, he learned to play guitar. He left home at 16 to work as a cowboy. He eventually lived in a stone house he built in Arkansas, where he also operated his own cattle ranch. A sold out auditorium for “The Legacy of Glenn Ohrlin,” tribute at the 32nd National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2016, was a moving testament to his extensive influence on cowboy culture. The late cowboy Glenn Ohrlin was revered by all who knew him as a man who lived at the heart of the cowboy tradition. He was known to be a genuine one-of-kind cowboy who shared his music with all. He was fondest of performing old time novelty tunes, but he had a deep appreciation for all types of songs and loved to be around young people to pass his knowledge and love for music along to them. His repertoire ranged from traditional ballads, poetry, bawdy songs, hobo ditties and Spanish tunes from the period 1875 to 1925, to country and western, and folk songs. Over his years of cowboying, riding in rodeos, and collecting cowboy music, Ohrlin wrote The Hell-Bound Train, published by the University of Illinois Press in 1973. It contained 100 of his favorite cowboy songs and poems as well as the people and stories behind them. He released an album of the same name. He was named an NEA Heritage Fellow in 1985.
For two years, Ohrlin was host and performer with The Cowboy Tour, on which he traveled 30,000 miles sharing cowboy music. During that time, he worked with other western folklorists who organized the successful Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. A remarkable man with an especially dry sense of humor, Ohrlin like to say, “The crowd might like me or they might not, but I’ll get paid anyway.” He theorized that cowboys sing because of the isolated life they lead. His legacy from a long happy life of 88 years includes stories, songs, humor, and poetry, but most importantly it includes those who have been inspired by him to carry on the cowboy music and poetry tradition. Singer Randy Rieman summed up Ohrlin and his influence beautifully with this heartfelt compliment during the tribute show, “In the 31 years of the poetry gathering, we needed to see Glenn. You just didn’t want to miss one of Glenn’s shows.”
Donnalyn Quintana established her nonprofit organization, “Western Wishes,” in 1994, out of a desire to make a difference in a child’s life by “celebrating the determination and courage of those facing adversity who love the western way of life.” She recognized there are kids who dream of being a sheriff, riding a reining horse, learning to rope a steer, ride in the rodeo or simply long to be a cowboy or cowgirl in some way. Twenty-two years later, Ms. Quintana’s program continues to grow and reward kids for their fighting spirit while also communicating the stories of their determination to get back in the saddle. The Western Wishes program puts inspiring kids in the spotlight, even if just for a moment, and encourages them to reach for the stars and see their dreams come true. She has worked tirelessly to enlist the help of celebrities such as Tuf Cooper, George Strait, Stran Smith, Taylor Swift and Reba McEntire, to light up a child’s life. Over the years, Donnalyn has worked to bring life to the western wishes of hundreds of young buckaroos with life changing illness or injury, whether mentally or physically challenged. Through her kindness, she has been touching lives and healing the hearts of young people facing potentially life-threatening adversities.
Ms. Quintana’s personal mission is to leave a legacy of goodwill the cowboy way. To that end, she reaches outside her arena as well, such as taking the time to attend the hearing at the Texas Legislature on behalf of the National Day of the Cowboy bill, where she invited her friend, rodeo legend Larry Mahan to testify to the hearing committee on our behalf. Her organization is also launching a College Rodeo Challenge, spearheaded by a college intern, to encourage other college rodeo teams to “pay it forward” by finding deserving kids, executing their wish and sharing their story. After helping to make more than 600 western wishes come true, Donnalyn still views her work as blessing for her, noting, “Every time I come away from granting a wish, my life is changed for the better. I feel that this was put into my heart for a reason.” A woman who radiates warmth and kindness, Donnalyn Quintana emphasizes that ultimately the aim is to use the Western Wishes stories to inspire other children battling similar adversities.
Cotton & Karin Rosser
Cotton Rosser says the seeds of showmanship were planted in his blood as a boy, by heroes like Will James, Hoppy, Gene, and Roy. Growing up in California, he was always on the lookout for opportunities to spend time with cowboys. Following high school, he attended Cal Poly, where he served as captain of the rodeo team. He competed in Madison Square Garden in New York in 1950. Rosser won the saddle bronc riding at the Reno Rodeo in 1950. His highlight was winning the all-around title at the 1951 Grand National Rodeo in San Francisco, but a ranch accident broke both of his legs, putting him out of rodeo competition and into business as a stock contractor and producer. To this day, he delights in new ways to entertain and wow the crowds, whether with Roman Chariot Races, Bull Poker or Bull Teeter-Totter! Cotton Rosser isn’t all about the pageantry, however. He sincerely cares about the integrity of rodeo. He takes great pains to ensure that the Flying U has the very best livestock. An aficionado of bucking horses and longhorn cattle, he attends to every detail himself. He is a legendary stock contractor and rodeo event producer who has supplied bulls to the PBR during its entire history. He was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1995. In 2009, he was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
In 2014 the Reno Rodeo honored him with “Cotton Rosser Night.” It couldn’t go to a more deserving person,” said Bob Tallman, longtime voice of the Reno Rodeo. “In the past 50 years, Cotton’s changed the face of rodeo five times. He’s been so far ahead of the curve people have flown to his events just so they could steal from them and do the same things.” Speaking at California Polytechnic State University, where he had once served as rodeo team captain Rosser told the graduates, “The motto, ‘learn by doing,’ has worked for me all my life.” And, all his life Cotton Rosser has shared his knowledge and experience while inspiring generations of cowboys and entertaining millions of people.
Karin Allred Rosser
PRCA Gold Card Member, Karin Allred Rosser, has spent her life excelling in fields related to Western Heritage. Early in life she was introduced to livestock and horses, riding Shetland Ponies as a toddler and Quarter Horses as she grew. Summers were spent at flat tracks as a hot walker and pony girl, while winter afternoons involved chariot races in NM and UT, and appearances at State and World Championship meets. Her teenage years found her in the horse show arena where she excelled in Western and English Riding and served as first President of the Utah Jr. Quarter Horse Association. Her competitive spirit resulted in numerous awards from the Utah, Intermountain and American Quarter Horse Associations. Competing as a barrel racer and queen contestant in amateur rodeo turned Karin’s attention to the rodeo arena. At 19 she was crowned Ogden Pioneer Days Rodeo Queen, launching her into professional rodeo. Later that year, having earned the title Miss Rodeo Utah, she was 1St Runner-up to Miss Rodeo America. The MRA scholarship money helped pay for a Fashion Merchandising degree from Weber State University. During her year-long reign she participated in western apparel markets, celebrations, and radio and TV spots, representing professional rodeo.
Rodeo also introduced Karin to her husband of 38 years, Cotton Rosser, stock contractor for the Pioneer Days Rodeo and other PRCA rodeos. Karin and Cotton were married in 1978. They moved to the Flying U Ranch in Marysville, CA, which offered them more opportunities to promote Western heritage. Her education equipped her to manage “Cotton’s Cowboy Corral,” the western retail store Cotton and Karin own and operate in Marysville. She was also introduced to rodeo production and soon received her PRCA Timer Card and Secretary Card. Karin mastered music and spotlights at some of the largest indoor arenas in the West. During the nine years the Flying U presented the opening ceremonies at the National Finals Rodeo, Karin cued spotlights and music, washed horses, and helped with wardrobe and flag presentation practices. While Cotton occupies center stage, Karin works behind the scenes as a rodeo secretary or timer, greeting dignitaries, planning events, organizing tack trailers, saddling horses, and feeding livestock. Then, they drive down the road together to the next rodeo where she may do it all again. She is a member of the women’s group HANDS, which offers moral support and financial assistance to rodeo people in need. Karin is affiliated with the Cowboy Reunion group which raises money to benefit both the Pro Rodeo Hall of Champions and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. She is known to be a poised professional woman of character and compassion who has made a lasting impression as a wife, mother, businesswoman and friend. She is recognized as a woman of principle who works tirelessly to benefit family, rodeo, ranching, and Western heritage.
Karin and Cotton have hosted school children on ranch tours and supported FFA, 4H and High School Rodeo clubs and teams. Since 2005, the Flying U Rodeo Company has participated in California Ag Day at the Capitol, where Karin and Cotton distribute copies of the Pro Rodeo Sports News, PRCA rule books, animal welfare brochures, answer questions from legislators, media, and the general public and provide information about pro rodeo. Together and individually, Karin and Cotton Rosser exemplify the essential spirit of those who work to promote and preserve the best of our Western Heritage.
Joseph “Jo” Mora
Throughout his lifetime, Joseph “Jo” Jacinto Mora embraced the rich history of the American West. From the time he wrote and illustrated stories about cowboys and Indians as a young child, to his last written and illustrated book about the history of the Vaqueros at the end of his life, Mora depicted the western lifestyle through his varied artistic abilities and by living it himself. As an accomplished illustrator, painter, sculptor, printmaker, cartographer, cartoonist, photographer, and cowboy, Jo was able to express his deep love of western history through numerous channels of creativity. His knowledge of history came from travel by horse and wagon in the early 1900s as he explored California’s missions, Yosemite, the state’s ranches, and eventually the culture of the Hopi and Navajo in Arizona. His observations throughout this time found their way into his writings and his art. Mora’s vast body of work ranges from a California 49er on a half-dollar minted by the U.S. government in celebration of California’s Diamond Anniversary, to four majestic bronzes on display at Oklahoma’s Woolaroc Museum, featuring figures prominent in Oklahoma history and the 101 Ranch of George Miller. The Levi Strauss Company chose Mora’s artwork for an extensive advertising campaign.
It is no surprise that a person of Mora’s vast western legacy would be intertwined with other honored westerners. Upon seeing Jo’s art, Frederick Remington encouraged Jo by telling him, “Son, you’re doing fine. Just stay with it.” Author Zane Grey featured Jo’s drawings in his Western Magazine. Jo’s western drawings sit perfectly alongside the work of Ed Borein and Charlie Russell. The writing of Jo Mora continues to ring just as true sixty years later as the work of Will James and Frank Dobie. Mora himself crafted a 13-scene diorama depicting the life of Will Rogers (at the Will Rogers Memorial Museum in Claremore, OK), as well as one featuring the arrival of John Fremont at Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, California.
He wrote and illustrated Trail Dust and Saddle Leather about the American cowboy and Californios about the Vaqueros; both continue to be well respected accounts of their subjects. He worked with his father to create the decorative elements on the Native Sons of the Golden West Building in San Francisco, depicting various aspects of California’s history. Mora created memorial sculptural work in honor of Bret Harte and the decorative elements on the Monterey County Courthouse in Salinas, California. His iconic work, “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was featured on the 2011 National Day of the Cowboy commemorative poster. Mora was a member of the prestigious National Sculpture Society. He was a prolific creator and his incredible and varied works of art can be found in museums, libraries, private collections and public places all around the country. Jo Mora is one of only eight persons included in each issue of Who’s Who in America since the publication’s inception. One of the rare artists able to make his living by his craft, Mora was a gifted artist, and an amazing person able to accomplish anything he set his mind to. While his list of accomplishments and accolades seems nearly endless, Jo Mora was the consummate husband and father who listed his family at the top of his life’s achievements.
In this fast moving world where technology emphasizes forward strides, we sometimes lose touch with historical milestones that form the foundation on which we stand today. New Mexico rancher, John Prather, serves as one of those milestones. Although he died in 1965, Prather and his story still resonate as an example of the cowboy ethics and principles of a man willing to stand up for what he believed was right. Born in Van Zandt County, Texas, in 1874, nine year old John and his family were one of the pioneer families moving to the territory of New Mexico in 1883. John started breaking horses when he was 12, charging a dollar per year of the horse; thus a two year old colt cost $2.00 to break. He saved his money, eventually married, and with his bride, homesteaded on the unsettled grasslands of the Otero Mesa where they lived in a tent until they could get a home built. Working behind a team of mules pulling a fresno scraper, they constructed dirt tanks and made water where there was no water. During World Wars I and II John gained fame as the Mule King, having one of the largest Army mule breeding programs in the country. Afterwards he ran a successful cattle ranching business introducing the first Angus cattle to the area. John became widely known so it was not uncommon to see an interesting roster of people at the ranch looking to purchase from his renowned stock. Visitors and clients included Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Dizzy Dean. He enjoyed going into town to do the shopping and often would stop for someone on the road who seemed to be in a tough situation and ask if he could help. Some of the old timers in Alamogordo still tell of times as a young child when they remember John buying expectant mothers a basket of baby clothes or an older person a new set of dentures. Most recipients of his acts of kindness were strangers to him, but he always said there is no excuse not to help someone one when you can. Although always a gentleman John could push boundaries when needed. During war time he often had only lady cowhands working for him because he felt they could use the income and satisfaction of providing for their families while their men were away. The ladies with children were even invited to bring the youngsters to the ranch so he could teach them about life outdoors.
The Cold War turned the attention of the U.S. military to the southern part of New Mexico where expansion of the McGregor Missile Range was seen as a necessity in the race against the Soviets. Buyouts of ranchers with the threat of condemnation worked well in acquiring 99% of the land, with one exception…John Prather. Even though he was 82, Prather refused to be cowed or intimidated and stayed firm in his resolve to keep his ranch. Understanding the need to prime our military’s force he offered to lease it to the Army for $1.00 a year, indemnity free. His offer was rebuffed and legal proceedings were initiated. Negotiations continued for a year with John graciously meeting several generals and inviting them to his place to see the fine beef he was raising to feed the boys in uniform. He was civil, but resolute in his stand to preserve what he had built with years of sweat and tears. Eventually the threat of force was employed and sheriffs’ deputies were sent to arrest the old rancher. Again, John was gracious but firm, saying he understood their job and hoped they understood his. He would not be moved unless it was forcibly. Two days passed ending with three deputies driving back to town with an empty back seat. Newspaper coverage from Alaska to Germany lauded the old cowboy. The Today Show quipped that the Army might want to use John Prather to negotiate with the Soviets on their behalf. The writer, Edward Abbey, penned the book Fire on the Mountain based on John’s determination to keep his land. The book became a made-for-TV film, starring Buddy Ebsen and Ron Howard. Within the year, juke boxes across the country were spinning “The Ballad of John Prather,” by Calvin Boles. John threatened to live to be 100 but passed away at 91. He is buried there where he took a stand for what he felt was right. His ranch is now part of the McGregor Missile Range, but they didn’t take it until a month after his death. He continued to work his ranch until the day he died. He held no grudges and often invited passing soldiers to the house for brisket, beans, and a dip in the cool waters of the steel tank. He was a class act until the very end. John Prather proved by example that being a cowboy is about far more than working with livestock. It is also about strength of character, integrity and true grit.
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
In the early 1990’s a group of citizens from Duncan and southwest Oklahoma, and northern Texas, formed a partnership to increase the quality of life in their region, help educate people on the courage, struggles and successes of settlement in the area, and provide an information stop on the route of present day explorers of the historic Chisholm Trail. From the beginning, the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, Oklahoma, hosted visitors with the highest quality educators and exhibits to celebrate the men and women who rode the Trail, settled the area, or were indigenous peoples forced to alter their lifestyles due to the encroachment of travelers and settlers. The Center’s mission is, “To celebrate and perpetuate the history, art and culture of the Chisholm Trail, the American Cowboy and the American West.” As a nonprofit, world class museum inside and out, the Center enriches its community as a renowned destination that brings alive the heritage of the American West, inspiring and educating present and future generations.
The museum serves the United States and International communities as well. The staff estimates fully ¼ of visitors are international. Past, present and future museum exhibits are as diverse as those who traveled the trail, including The Long Ride Home – The African American (cowboy) Experience in America” a photographic exhibition by Ron Tarver, a Grand Ole Opry tribute, a comic book artist’s exhibit, a chuck wagon exhibit, the art of Donna Howell Sickles, and even a vintage apron exhibition. Art lovers will delight in the Garis Gallery of the American West where they can view prized works of George Catlin, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Cowgirl artists in the Garis Gallery include KW Whitley and Marjorie Reed. Local and regional artists are also on display, including the work of Gay Faulkenberry and Oklahoma notables Paul Moore and Harold T. Holden.
The Chisholm Trail Center’s annual National Day of the Cowboy celebration continues to thrive and grow each year, bringing hundreds of excited attendees to celebrate and honor the role of the cowgirl and cowboy in the American West. They strive to include activities for young folks as well as adults, including educational programming and artist exhibits. At their always exceptional NDOC celebration you can rope a Longhorn, ride a buckin’ bronc, create your own brand, and watch the cattle stampede in the 4D Theater while you cool off during a summer thunderstorm on the Oklahoma prairie. At the Campfire Theater you can listen to Jesse Chisholm and Tex share campfire tales in spite of a ruckus in the wagon as cowboys try to get comfortable for the night.
The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center has received numerous awards as a result of the quality of its exhibits and programs, including in 2014 “Great Expectations Model School” certification (the only non-profit to hold this title consecutively for eight years). In 2005, the “American Cowboy Culture Award” for Western Museums from the National Cowboy Symposium in Lubbock, Texas and in 2003, the “Community Improvement Award” from the Duncan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The Chisholm Trail Heritage Center is one of three organizations working to create national involvement in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Chisholm Trail in 2017.
Cowboy Keeper Awards are always unique because each year a different artist or photographer contributes the artwork for the award. Renowned Prix de West and multiple award winning artist, Scott Tallman Powers, graciously provided the NDOC with his gentle image of “The Wyoming Storyteller,” for the 2016 Cowboy Keeper Awards.
The National Day of the Cowboy tips its hat to Glenn Ohrlin, Donnalyn Quintana, Cotton and Karin Rosser, John Prather, Joseph “Jo; Mora, and the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, our 2016 Cowboy Keeper Award honorees. These esteemed recipients have not only made a substantial contribution to the preservation of our pioneer heritage and cowboy culture, they have inspired untold others to do the same.