Like a Microsoft cowgirl
September 2, 2001
Steamboat Springs — They don’t call Ricky, picky for nuthin’ in between tuning his mandolin and charming his audience with the most sincere stage chatter west of Nashville Sunday afternoon, Ricky Skaggs picked up a storm at WestFest. More accurately the lightnin’ fast licks of Skaggs and his band, Kentucky Thunder, chased off a baby storm cloud that tried to boil up over Emerald Mountain and spoil Michael Martin Murphey’s chuck wagon picnic and eclectic hoedown.
Skaggs would have none of it. His band laid down some bluegrass that caused jaws to drop all over Torian Plum Plaza.
Later Skaggs reappeared onstage with Murphey and the Rio Grande Band (Bande?) to insert some sweet mandolin leads into songs about cowboys who died in stampedes and won’t never see their mothers again, and the dirty rotten coward who put a bullet in Jesse James.
As good as the music was, I had come to WestFest to see if Murphey could go beyond performing cowboy standards. I wanted to know if he could bring us some true western history to remind this not-so-dusty cowtown of its heritage.
After all, Steamboat Springs is a cowgirl town, is it not?
Well I found me a genuine Microsoft cowgirl at WestFest this Labor Day weekend, and her name is Barbara Kauffman.
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Barbara is the owner of JB Saddlery in Fort Lupton, and she had a small tent erected on the grounds of WestFest. She was offering beautiful handmade saddles and chaps for sale, along with an emporium of other cowgirl regalia.
Barbara did not begin her career as a cowgirl saddle maker. In fact, she enjoyed a successful career as a systems engineer for Microsoft.
In her previous life, she worked in Denver and boarded a plane once or twice a week to fly out to Seattle.
There, she used to sit around the campfire and talk motherboards and such with Bill Gates and some of the other buckaroos out Redmond way.
Well, Barbara grew tired of ridin’ the Microsoft range, and she traded in her stock options so she could afford to go to saddle maker school.
Barbara likes WestFest.
“This is one of the few places left where you see western things,” she said.
“We need to keep western stuff alive whatever way we can.”
You go, cowgirl.
Jose Ortiz was at WestFest this week, too. Jose’s company is Vaquero Real Cowboy Stuff. He and his family braid beautiful bridles, lead ropes and split reins out of horsehair back home in Tecate, Calif. I bought some reins, and I don’t even have a horse!
Among the most fascinating items Jose was selling to genuine cowboys like moi at WestFest were cinches you know, the wide strap Billy Crystal used in “City Slickers” to make sure his saddle wouldn’t fall off his cayuse.
Ortiz makes his cinches out of human hair no kidding human hair.
How come human hair?
“Because it’s very durable and it’s softer on the horses’ bellies,” that’s why.
I asked Jose where he gets the human hair from, and he replied “Canada.” I was about to ask him why a Mexican vaquero from California imports human hair from Canada, but I decided the truth might be more than I wanted to know. I just chalked it up to “cowboy logic.”
Finally, I met a distinguished-looking gentleman named Clifford Duncan from Roosevelt, Utah.
Clifford is not a cowboy he is an Indian of the Northern Ute tribe. In fact, he informed me, he was the only Northern Ute performing at WestFest.
Clifford told me that his mother’s father and mother used to live in the Yampa Valley.
“This is my grandpa’s home,” Clifford said.
“His spirit lives here. I come to visit him.”
Clifford said his grandfather told him about hunting buffalo in the Yampa Valley not on the other side of the Park Range in North Park, but right here around Steamboat Springs. The bison they hunted were adapted to the mountains and were smaller than the plains buffalo, Clifford said.
That, Mr. Murphey, is good stuff.
I wish I could meet Clifford Duncan’s grandparents. But that isn’t possible.
I hope Michael Martin Murphey brings WestFest back to Steamboat next year so I can meet more fascinating people.
In the meantime, you can visit the Microsoft cowgirl Barbara Kauffman has a web site, of course. It’s http://www.jbsaddlery.com.