Ranch hand and poet has seen oil booms come and go
BAINVILLE, Mont. — If you give DW Groethe a subject, he can give you a poem and a song.
“Words, once they get inside your head, they end up creating a whole new world,” Groethe said. “They’re just wonderful to work with. It’s innate.”
He was just a boy when North Dakota saw its first oil boom in the 1950s. The parents of his two best friends worked in the oilfield.
The Williston native was working on a fine arts degree in theater at the University of North Dakota when the second boom hit. He remembers “a lot of fun and a lot of people.”
From Groethe’s home across the line in Bainville, Mont., this boom is “massive.”
“It’s beyond belief. I run across a lot of ranch kids building a stake for themselves (in the oilfields),” he said.
Writing and music were his passions since before age 8. After college, Groethe said he played in a couple of bands and worked at a photography studio, as the “boom was going bust then, not much for work.”
By the early ‘90s he said he heard about people looking for guys to fix fence and work cows, and he thought it might be a good fit.
So Groethe headed west, just across the state line into Montana, bought a house on a handshake and became a ranch hand.
“The smartest thing I ever did was leave Williston, move to Bainville and went working cows, because my poetry and my songwriting — my level of creativity — went from a two to a 10 plus,” he said.
In 2003, Groethe was invited to the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nev., which highlights the cultural heritage of the American West. This year marked his 10th year as a participant.
“It’s occupational poetry because it’s about our way of life and what we do. Historically, we swapped stories around a campfire,” he said.
Chuck Wilder, owner of Books on Broadway in downtown Williston, said he’s known Groethe since the early 1980s. Wilder attended Williston High School with his two youngest brothers and said the elder Groethe “ran with” an eclectic group in the arts community.
“He’s a good poet, a good writer. He’s just very talented in the arts,” Wilder said.
Groethe, who worked as a ranch hand for nearly two decades, now works as a freelance day hand. The days can be long because “cows don’t take a day off,” however, he still finds inspiration in the people, the animals and the land.
“My heart’s in Montana/where the first rays of dawn/rustle grasslands from sleep/then for hours sweep on till the tips of the Rockies/are swallowed then gone in stardust…in Montana,” Groethe wrote in his poem, “My Heart’s in Montana.”
His poems have been published in four chapbooks (a small book or pamphlet) and five books including his latest, “Prairie Song: A Meander of Memory.” Groethe has recorded some of his songs as well.
Organizations like the Center for Western and Cowboy Poetry have helped spread the word about his poetry. His two gigs per month at folk festivals, ag banquets and cowboy poetry gatherings allow him to showcase his repertoire of poems and songs, Groethe said.
“Somehow or another it changes their perception or reality of the world. You can’t put a price on that.”