ELKO — If there’s any skill cowboy poets have mastered, it’s telling stories. And there’s no better story than the one behind their mustaches.
John Doran recalled that the origins of his own mustache date back to 1960. He was sitting on his grandfather’s lap, flipping through a Life magazine that recounted the centennial of the Civil War, when mustaches indicated rank and file in the military.
“I told him that I was going to wear a mustache when I grew up,” Doran said. “He said, ‘well, just remember to turn up the ends like a smile because then people will know you have a happy countenance on life.’”
Doran listened. He now sports a thick handlebar that certainly speaks to his countenance.
His mustache is so notable that a photographer recently featured him in a book of American facial hair.
“I started growing it in 1972 when I was able,” Doran said, “and it has been with me since.”
Doran has ample mustache company during the 2013 National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. There are samples of the Hungarian, the Mutton, the Fu Manchu, the Horseshoe, the English, the Handlebar and the Walrus.
Many performers and participants including saddlemaker Mark Howes sport an Imperial style, a full bodied curl with upturned ends that gathers above the lip.
Artist Bill Lowman carries around a bushy Horseshoe style with tightly wound ends that go on for half a foot.
Poet Waddie Mitchell owns a fashioned mix of a Chevron and Natural style.
Still others, such as performer and cowboy Gail Steiger, volunteer Jim Rasmussen and artist John Dofflemeyer, sport tightly clipped styles more out of necessity in the winter than anything else, they said.
Gathering attendee Max Zimmerman can name almost any type of mustache or beard, but he’s especially fond of the Alaskan Whaler, a type of beard without any upper lip hair. He saw a few at the World Beard and Moustache championships in Alaska in 2008.
“It looks almost Amish,” he said. “It was a special entry into the competition that year because it was in Alaska.”
The California resident traveled north for the competition with his friend Devon Blunden and they came back with a special appreciation for facial hair. So much so that Blunden, a technology volunteer at the Gathering, came home with a mustache decal on the front of his car.
“There are some really good mustaches at Cowboy Poetry,” Blunden said. “It’s great people watching.”