By Garrett Stanley
From the minute I met Clark Crouch his air of positivity drew me in. A warm, bright smile that could soften even the hardest of personalities. Around his neck sat a turquoise and orange bolo tie, a gift from a granddaughter of Sitting Bull that he wore just for me.
Clark is 93 years old. He was born just before the start of the Great Depression and raised in rural Nebraska as the youngest of four. He noted that he was actually born on the family kitchen table after the doctor moved his mother onto it after being in labor for 12 hours.
“I was raised in primarily rural environments,” Clark said. “We moved more often than anyone should—I went to nine schools in 12 years.”
But this didn’t seem to be a tough memory for him.
“I think it was good for me,” he said, elaborating that it exposed him to all different types of people from a very young age.
One of those moves is where he met his wife, Barbara. After arriving in her town of Dunning, Neb., Clark got a job at the general store, owned and operated by Barbara’s father. While they had gone out “a time or two,” their relationship didn’t truly begin until later.
“I went back on vacation one year and—I still liked her. So, I proposed,” he said.
Clark and Barbara have been married for 73 years.
While Barbara fulfilled her teaching contract in Nebraska, Clark worked in Washington.
“We didn’t see each other for a year, we just kept in contact by letters,” Clark said. “Phone calls were too expensive for us.
“I was on my own economically from the time I was 12,” Clark said. “While in town I would do any job I could get that would give me enough to pay for room and board.”
That led Clark down the path toward becoming a cowboy.
“My pay as a cowboy was a dollar a day plus room and board,” he said. “You worked for a rancher, he had hundreds, maybe thousands of cows, and you had to take care of them.”
What has really defined Clark’s life, however, is his love of poetry. His teacher, Charles Badger Clark, was a great American cowboy poet and someone who Clark spoke about with great reverence.
“A cowboy poet writes in the style and manner of tradition,” Clark said. “Horses walk in a rhythm—and they write poems to capture that rhythm.”
He then began to recite some lines to demonstrate, slipping into a deeper tone as the words danced out of his mouth.
Clark said his favorite part about being a poet is performing. He particularly loves sharing his poems with 6th graders, who are around the age he was when he first became a cowboy. Clark’s poems reflect his life and experiences growing up and he thinks the kids connect with that.
Clark has traveled all across the West performing his pieces and even started his own publishing company to help support other poets. He also brought out two award plaques recognizing his excellence in poetry.
At the end of our conversation, one quote from Clark stood out to me.
“I am happy with my life,” Clark said while holding a collection of poems that encapsulates it.