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Writing for Heritage

Aug 25, 2013 - By Andrea Novotny Staff Writer

By Andrea Novotny

Staff Writer

Shoshoni rancher Echo Klaproth's aim as Wyoming's new poet laureate extends beyond sharing the aesthetics of verse and into emphasizing what sharing those words can mean for future generations.

"I first started writing to save the stories of my family's heritage," Klaproth said. "I would write to save a story because I needed to do it. I just couldn't not write it. I think it's important, always, that we keep our stories so that our kids know from where they come, to whom they belong. It seems like they're kind of lost, maybe not as comfortable in their adventures, if they don't have a sense of belonging to something bigger than they are ... we all long to belong to something."

A retired secondary education teacher at Shoshoni, Klaproth recalls a particular occasion that drew her attention to storytelling.

"As a teacher, I'd have kids journal every day for three or four minutes," she said. "One day, the comment on the board was for them to 'tell a story about great grandparents you've heard so many times you feel like you could have been there.'"

After seeing that a large portion of the class was not writing, Klaproth broadened the assignment to include stories told by parents, aunts, uncles and, eventually, anyone. With each extension of the assignment, a few more students began to write, but several still were left with nothing to say.

"Tears were welling up in my eyes," Klaproth said. "We don't sit around and visit with each other anymore. I grew up hearing stories. Our entertainment was family sitting around a kitchen table."

Klaproth continues to encounter the phenomena of the death of storytelling today.

In 2010, she became an ordained minister and currently is the chaplain at Help for Health Hospice in Riverton.

"There are several people that I work with at hospice that will sit and tell me a story, and I say to them, 'Have you shared this with grandkids or with nieces and nephews?' So many times, they say, 'Nah. They don't want to hear that,'" she said. "I think it's important that we save those stories. I want to help teach them how to write them. I want them to understand that they all do have a voice. They don't have to be the best grammarian or the best writers."

Klaproth said she wants to encourage people to write and she wants to encourage people, generally, in life.

"I consider myself a learner, first and foremost in life," she said. "It's never too late to follow up on a dream and to have a new adventure."

At the age of 45, Klaproth pursued her own adventure by going back to college.

Klaproth's writing

The use of resources in Wyoming is an important theme in some of Klaproth's writing.

"There's kind of an old argument -- supposedly -- between conservationists, or environmentalists, and the rancher and the farmer, and there is some animosity there," she said. "There are some farmers and ranchers who abuse the land and give all of us a bad name."

But Klaproth said the relationship between the land and those who work it demands cooperation, which she strives to promote.

"We are not in the livestock business; we're in the grass and water business," she said. "Without grass and water, we aren't in the livestock business, and so I consider us, ranchers, the original environmentalists. A farmer or rancher who doesn't take care of the land isn't in business very long."

Klaproth has three published books as well as a CD of her recorded works. She also worked for The Wrangler Horse and Rodeo News and wrote the column "Wyoming Echoes" for The Ranger from 1990 to 1997.

Klaproth already has several speaking engagements planned. The first will be at the fifth annual Festival of the Cowboys on Sept. 14 at the community center in Crowheart where she will read cowboy poetry.

Klaproth was named Wyoming's poet laureate by Gov. Matt Mead on Wyoming Day, July 10, in Cheyenne. She is the sixth person in Wyoming to hold the position since it was established in 1981.

"Echo captures the essence of Wyoming and our state's ranching heritage in her poetry," Mead said at the conference. "We look forward to her serving Wyoming in this distinguished capacity. Her poetry is inspiring and will enrich our lives."

At the conference, Klaproth recited her poem, "An Epic to our Forefathers," a piece she originally wrote for a family reunion in 1985. She said the piece exemplifies her message about preserving and passing down stories.

The poem deals with the life of the frontiersman and about how "we've romanticized the cowboy to the point that a lot of people missed the real cowboy," Klaproth said.

"An Epic to our Forefathers," speaks to the hardships faced by the original settlers and ends with a message to those who inherited their legacy:

"No, we can't live yesterday or change come what may,

so we do what we can and continue to strive,

for on history we build and time's unfulfilled

if we don't honor and cherish and thrive."

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