Waddie Mitchell has become an icon of Nevada, of buckaroo culture (cowboys of the Great Basin), and of cowboy poetry. Born in 1950 on a ranch in Elko County, he grew up to be a working cowboy. After the popularity of the first Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 1985—of which he was one of the founders—he realized the impact he had on audiences. He also saw that making day wages as a cowboy, he would never buy the ranch he dreamed of owning. So Mitchell became a professional cowboy poet and entertainer with worldwide tours, logging over 200 days on the road in 2006. By age fifty, he realized his goal of building his dream ranch in the country he grew up in.
Born Bruce Douglas Mitchell in 1950, the future cowboy poet grew up on ranches along the edge of the Ruby Mountains south of Elko. His childhood was dominated by horses, cattle, and the buckaroo tradition. Mitchell heard the stories, songs, and poetry of old buckaroos, and they stuck in his head. He dropped out of school at sixteen and went to work as a cowboy until he was drafted into the Army. Stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, Mitchell broke and trained horses for the U.S. Cavalry. It was in the army that his nickname "Waddie"—a regular old cowboy—stuck to him. One has to go back pretty far with Mitchell to call him Bruce.
After he came back to Nevada, Mitchell started working on big ranches, got married, and established a family raising five children. His life changed in 1985 when the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering first took place. He saw the hunger people had for this down-to-earth message embedded in the poems and stories he grew up with. He also got the message that he had a rare natural talent to relate to audiences. Soon, Mitchell was invited to storytelling festivals, he appeared in documentaries, and he was asked to appear on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show—which he'd never heard of before they called to invite him. Until then he always lived out of range of television. His life took on a new trajectory.
Mitchell continues to tour all over the country as a humorist, poet, and grassroots performer. He was central in founding the Working Ranch Cowboy Association. He has been commissioned to write poems commemorating the 2002 Olympics as well as the Super Bowl. Mitchell has appeared on every television network and regularly performs with Don Edwards on symphonic programs of cowboy poetry and music. He has recorded on the Warner Western label and currently releases CDs with Western Jubilee Recording Company.
In 1997, Mitchell was finally able to purchase a ranch in the foothills of the Ruby Mountains he loves so well. His kids are grown and on their own, and he is building an off-the-grid ranch stead with his wife and partner, Lisa Hackett.