Cowboy Poet Lifelong cowboy recreates life through lyrical verses
Mike and Betsy Damboise in their home on Davis Ranch. The couple inherited the ranch from Betsy's father, Don Davis, who still lends his advice on the successful cow-calf operation. CHRISTY SWIFT/For Central Florida's Agri-Leader
Published: July 3, 2013
Updated: July 3, 2013 at 10:56 AM
“But I’ll tell ya one story that’ll take ya by surpriseIt’s about a rank bull, the worst of his kindFor bucking off cowboys, leaving them crippled, broke and blindHis name was Bobby, call him Bob for shortHe’d make ‘em beg for mercy or even quit the sport.He was two thousand pounds of bone, meat and muscle; held his head real high.He loved to hurt a cowboy-- you could see it in his eye . . .” So goes the poem about a vengeful bull that cowboy, poet and rodeo announcer Mike Damboise keeps in his repertoire. In a deep, silky voice, Damboise rattles off lines of poetry by heart. The stories are fun, thick with Florida cracker jargon and imagery. All of it is his original work. He used to be a regular at the Cattlemen's convention, Farm Bureau dinners and other agriculture events. His 20- to 45-minute act was "a lot of really clean funny jokes," including some Christian cowboy poetry. His personal favorite is a poem called "Jesus was a Cowboy."
"It's a little boy's perspective on Jesus," he remarked. One day he was performing at a wedding and a record producer was there. That contact led to Damboise working with singer Kenny Hicks and musician Bobby Croft to put his ideas to music. "I did an album, but never released it," said Damboise, who is thinking about lighting a fire under the project again. He's even taken up the guitar. The genesis of Damboise's lyrical lines came in his early cowboy days in Osceola County, where he was raised. As he and fellow cowboys drove cattle across miles and miles of land, "we used to just lay around and make up rhymes, picking at each other," he recalled. When a buddy got married, Damboise put a few of those lines together and performed at his wedding. That was 23 years ago. Between then and now, Damboise has kept busy. "I rode bulls for a long time and just kind of lived for it," he said, showing a 1992 photo of himself on a bucking bull, teeth gritted so hard it looks like he's smiling. In 15 years he's cracked several bones and broken some ribs and his collarbone trying to stay on a bull for eight seconds. A couple of years after he married Betsy Davis in 1991, he finally decided to give it up. "It's so dangerous," he remarked. Less dangerous was rodeo announcing, something else Damboise had a talent for and enjoyed. He started in 1993 and "it kind of took over," he said. Damboise enjoyed helping out the professional rodeo industry and said he'd probably still be doing it if his kids hadn't started doing rodeos. These days a lot of his time is spent helping his daughter, Loni, a Sebring High School junior, and his son Kade, a sophomore. In fact, that very morning, Damboise was working the calf chute while Loni and a friend practiced calf roping for the national high school rodeo championship. This will be Loni's sixth year going. Damboise also stays busy managing Davis Ranch in Hardee County, a cow-calf operation his wife inherited from her father, Don Davis. The couple runs the company together with guidance from her dad. All around the beautiful home they have built on Davis Ranch are memories from Damboise's poetry days, including a poster from Elko, Nev., home of the first cowboy poetry gathering of its time. Damboise performed there and used his slot to represent the Florida cattle industry. "People from the West, especially Texans, they think that Florida is a beach with Mickey Mouse on it," he said. Damboise was the last of about 15 performers in an open session, and he recounted, "when they introduced me, everybody was getting ready to walk out." But the host saved him by vouching for the state, and, appropriately so. Damboise rattled off by heart a poem entitled "Are there really cowboys in Florida?" With entertaining tales of the plights of Florida cowboys dealing with sweltering heat, palmetto patches, alligators and such, he shared how tough a person had to be to raise cattle here. "They awarded me the most promising poet of that session," Damboise grinned.