Montanans You Should Know: Wally McRae

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Cowboy Poet & Rancher

People & Place

Wally McRae’s first public poetry performance was at his one-room schoolhouse when he was four. He has been an invited performer at every Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering.  He is a founding member of the Coal and Cattle Players theater group in his hometown, and author of several poetry books.  Stick Horses was named Montana Book of the Year (2009).  Wally has received the Governor’s Award for the Arts, a Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, the H.G. Merriam Award from UM’s Mansfield Library, and numerous other honors, including a segment on 60 Minutes. He is a cattle rancher, south of Colstrip, where his family has a cow-calf operation.

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If I designed a “Welcome to Montana” sign it would say… Please leave the gate the way you found it and don’t mistake courtesy and hospitality for stupidity.

I’m not really grouchy, I’m just… often upset with people who are incompetent but seem to be unbothered by the fact.

What I like most about Colstrip is… remembering all my dedicated schoolteachers and participating in plays produced by the Coal and Cattle Country Players. 

When you get to be my age, birthdays are just…another annual event to be endured (but thanks for reminding me).

Let’s face it, ranching is… an occupation from which it seems impossible to retire as normal people seem to do.

My favorite short poem is all about… a dog named Maggie

I taught my good dog, Maggie

“Lay down” when I commanded

I also taught her “set”

Whenever I demanded

“I’ll teach her next to ‘speak’,” I said

She struggled to comply

And when she learned to speak, she said

“You twit, it’s sit! and lie!”

If there is one thing about being a “cowboy poet” you should know, it’s… that the poem you’re planning to write about your good old horse that died and that you’re ‘gonna ride again in Heaven,’ has already been written….many times.

Every morning when I wake up the first thing I do is… something I thought I had taken care of a couple of times during the night.

My best-kept secret is that I… thought I covered it in the previous answer. Okay?

When it comes to computers… I wonder why you’d ask or how you’d feel if I asked what kind of calf roper you were!

If my mother were here today, she would tell you that I’m… still a good boy because I clean up my plate most of the time.

These days my greatest pleasure is… sneaking in an afternoon nap.

If I could come back in 100 years just to see if… the ash ponds for the Colstrip Power Plants are still leaking and continue to be a burden to the taxpayers as a Superfund site.

Can anyone tell me why the hell… politicians are all for protecting western Montana, but anything east of Billings is expendable and to be considered a sacrifice area.  Check it out!

If I had it to do all over again, the one thing I would do differently would be… quit smoking one less time in order to avoid terminal obesity.

If there is one ranch chore I hate to do it’s… the one 
I gotta do today!

One thing I’ve never been able to understand about people is… why some will go out of their way to be cruel because of their beliefs.

The last gift I bought for a friend was… a bottle of rhubarb wine from the Tongue River Winery south of Miles City.

My favorite “extra-curriculars” are… limited to bitching and showing up at various doctors’ offices.

My epitaph?  Well, I’d like it to say… as expressed in my poem, My Requiem: 

When I say that last amen

Let my mark be carried lightly

In the hearts and minds of men.