Close up of Nevada Writers Hall of Fame medal

Waddie Mitchell

2011 Nevada Writers Hall of Fame Inductee


Bruce Douglas Mitchell, a native Nevadan, goes by the nickname his father gave him, Waddie, which is early twentieth century slang for "cowboy." He grew up on working ranches in Elko County, Nevada, among storytellers who cultivated conversation as a pastime because there was no electricity for television and poor radio reception. He was reciting poems by the time he was ten years old and left school at 16 to work as a cowboy until he was drafted for military service: breaking and training horses for the U.S. Cavalry at Fort Carson, Colorado. After that, he spent 26 years as a working buckaroo (a Great Basin region cowboy) before focusing on a career as a cowboy poet performer. Mitchell's first public presentations as a cowboy poet were at the first and second Nevada Storytelling Festivals held at the University of Nevada, Reno, in 1982 and 1984. These festivals were funded by grants from Nevada Humanities. Also in the early 1980s, the Public Broadcasting Service made a documentary about cowboys, America, the Vanishing Breed, which included footage of Mitchell, then a ranch foreman, reciting some of his poetry. In 1984, Mitchell and Hal Cannon, a folklorist and past director of the Western Folk Life Center in Elko, were instrumental in organizing what has become the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. Mitchell recorded his first album of poetry in 1984 in Idaho. His first appearance on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show" was on June 12, 1986. He appeared again on The Tonight Show with Baxter Black on January 8, 1987. By 1988, Mitchell was the most well known cowboy poet in the country. His poems and those of other cowboy poets touched a chord with the general public, sparking growing interest in the genre. By 1996, there were about 150 cowboy poetry events throughout the West. Mitchell has supported cowboy poetry by serving as host for many of these festivals. His poem, "That No Quit Attitude," commissioned by the Cultural Olympiad, became the official poem for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games. In May 2003, he and several Western musicians performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City.