Pop Star Kiesza Came To Wyoming To Dig Fossils And Discovered A Cowboy Poet

“The Mysterious Disappearance of Etta Place,” a new single from Canadian pop star Kiesza, is not only about Wyoming, its music video was filmed here and features a poem by Worland's cowboy historian Clay Gibbons.

Renée Jean

June 22, 202411 min read

Clay Gibbons watches a music video by Kiesza at his ranch between Worland and Thermopolis. The video includes a poem he wrote in college for a classroom assignment. He was 23 when he wrote the poem.
Clay Gibbons watches a music video by Kiesza at his ranch between Worland and Thermopolis. The video includes a poem he wrote in college for a classroom assignment. He was 23 when he wrote the poem. (Renee Jean, Cowboy State Daily)

WORLAND -- Wyoming cowboy historian Clay Gibbons has written two poems in his lifetime, both of which have been hits of one kind or another.

His first, “What A Cowboy Means to Me,” was inspired when he couldn’t quite find what he was looking for in a poem about cowboys for a speech at the National Day of the Cowboy.

The American Cowboy magazine liked it so much they published it, and you can hear Gibbons read the poem online at his podcast, The Sweet Smell of Sagebrush.

But the poem that has really hit the big time is one he wrote 50 years ago while still a college student, at the tenderfoot age of 23. That poem is now part of Canadian singer-songwriter Kiesza’s latest release, “The Mysterious Disappearance of Etta Place.”

Unlike so many other videos and films about Wyoming that aren’t filmed in Wyoming and have no true grounding in the state, this particular video is authentically inspired by, filmed in, and all about Wyoming. It even stars a Wyoming horse named Corona, as well as Gibbons, a true Wyoming Cowboy.

Mystery Guests Arrive At Gibbons’ Airbnb

Gibbons wasn’t looking for a publisher at the time. In fact, he’d forgotten all about the poem. Until he happened to have four intriguing guests at his ranch, outside of Worland, through Airbnb.

Gibbons didn’t know much about these guests at first. He just knew that one of them owned a museum in Toronto and that the other two were a “cute little redhead” and her boyfriend. There was also a fourth guy. Somebody named Ron.

They’d come out to dig for dinosaur fossils near Ten Sleep. But one thing Gibbons noticed was that they tended to hang around the house until about noon before going out to the dig. They might spend anywhere from two to three hours on site before returning.

That made him curious. Digging up dinosaurs surely wasn’t how they were making a living, he thought.

“So, one day, when they were hanging around in the kitchen, I said, ‘So, Ron, what’s your story?’ And he says, ‘Well, have you ever seen the TV show ‘Heartland?’”

Certainly Gibbons had heard of it. In fact, he and his daughter watched the show all the time, and they loved it.

“So, he says, ‘Well, I’m the creator and director of Heartland,’” Gibbons said.

Gibbons could hardly believe what he was hearing. He was talking to the guy who’d created a wildly popular television show that’s in its 16th season. Wowza.

“Well, that’s pretty cool, Ron,” was all he could think to say right then.

He asked T.J., Kiesza’s boyfriend what he did, and learned that he had flown Apache helicopters in the Iraq War, but now flies drones for movies in Los Angeles.

A ‘Little’ Singing Now and Then

Kiesza meanwhile, told Gibbons she did “a little singing,” now and again.

“Oh, you do?” Gibbons said. “You’ll have to sing something for me then.”

Kiesza smiled and told Gibbons to bring her a guitar and she would do just that.

“So, I went and got a guitar and they gave it to Kai and I got my phone out,” Gibbons said. “And I videotaped her singing a song she called ‘Hideaway.’ I’d never heard it before, but it was pretty good.”

He asked if she’d ever recorded anything.

“The guys started laughing, and she said, ‘Clay, give me your cell phone.’”

Kiesza’s full name is Kiesa Rae Ellestad, and she’s a Canadian superstar with hits like “Sound of a Woman,” “Giant in My Heart,” and “Take Ü There.” She’s won several awards since her breakout hit “Hideway” went viral in 2014.

She brought up her song, “Hideaway” and handed it back to Gibbons, amused by the Wyoming Cowboy who had just asked if she’d ever recorded anything.

“Here she was on YouTube singing this ‘Hideaway in this music video,” Gibbons said. “And it had 515 million views or something like that.”

It was dawning on Gibbons that the people he was hosting were super famous, but he still hadn’t quite wrapped his brain around it. He said something to the effect that 515 million views was an awful lot.

That’s when she told him that with all the places where the song is posted, the total number of views are actually more than a billion.

“That’s billion with a ‘B’,” Gibbons said, shaking his head a little at the memory, and laughing at himself just a little.

Throughout the rest of the stay at Gibbons’ ranch, the group came together every night at dinner and talked about all sorts of things over home-cooked meals, like London broil, which is one of Gibbons’ specialties.

“We had a great time for the rest of the week,” Gibbons said. “Just had a lot of fun talking, and fixing meals, and visiting and what not.”

Watch on YouTube

More London Broil Please

After Kiesza and her friends went home, Gibbons figured that was that. He’d never see those famous folks again.

But he was wrong.

“She came back the following August, and she said she wanted me to do two things for her,” Gibbons said.

Those two things were to fix her another of his London broils, and the other was to take her to the Hole in the Wall, a place he had mentioned during her last visit.

The red cliffs of the Hole in the Wall hide one of Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch Gang’s favorite hiding places in Wyoming. The wall, which is somewhere between Ten Sleep and Kaycee, only has three access points in a wall that is 30-some miles long.

None of those access points are particularly easy to get to, even today. Then, as now, it takes both determination, knowhow, and no little stamina to find, much less enter.

Gibbons does public tours to the Hole in the Wall now and then, but he also gives private tours as well.

On this particular occasion, he not only showed Kiesza and her boyfriend the Hole in the Wall, but they climbed to its very top.

“When we got to the top, I said, ‘OK, Kiesza, your big hit is ‘Hideaway’ and we are in Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid’s Hideaway here at the Hole in the Wall,’” Gibbons said. “’So, I think it’s only appropriate that you sing that song on top of the Hole in the Wall.’”

Kiesza was delighted with the idea. She even did the entire dance routine, which Gibbons videotaped.

“She’s doing the whole 9 yards,” Gibbons said. “So, I pan down at the red wall right below us and the whole view from there, you know, it just made a really, really cool little video.”

It was during this trip that Kiesza asked Gibbons one day what else he’d written.

“He tells such beautiful stories,” she said in an interview with West Side Today. “I assumed he must be a great writer.”

Gibbons laughed and told her he’s only written two poems in his whole life.

Kiesza wanted to hear them both, so Gibbons recited them for her.

But when she heard his first poem, written in college, that’s when their roles reversed. Suddenly it was Kiesza filming Gibbons with her iPhone.

Gibbons had told her all kinds of tales about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on their trip to Hole in the Wall, but it was the Sundance Kid’s lover and eventual wife, Etta Place, who captured her imagination.

She’s a woman of complete mystery.

No one knows for sure where she came from, and, after Butch and Sundance are reported dead in South America in a gun battle with law enforcement, she disappears without a trace.

History, and the Pinkerton detectives who had long trailed after the outlaw queen, completely lost track of her.

Gunshots And Daisies

Kiesza eventually put together a song about Place that opens with Gibbons’ poem. In the poem, Gibbons tells listeners that he refuses to pick daises because he chooses not to kill.

But, he says, he will show you wild daisies, never before seen by human eyes, naked in all their glory.

“We will go now, leaving them undisturbed,” Gibbons says in the video. “And stop when the sun calls us, then we too will be naked.”

Guitar strains play as the sun sets, and Gibbons says twice, “I will be of you, as you will be of me.

“And then the sun will see only one.”

Gunshots are the next thing listeners hear, and the video cuts to a Wild West scene shot in Cody’s Old Trail Town.

A cowboy is shot dead and lays on his back, one arm over his chest, the other splayed out to one side, gun still in hand.

Kiesza then appears riding Gibbons’ Palomino, Corona, and singing, “Down dusty roads and red hills on the rise, with rifles cocked, bandanas on their eyes,” as she rides slowly through Trail Town, like a mourner in a funeral procession.

Figures dressed in old West clothing look up at her as she passes by, some just curious, some, seemingly accusatory.

“A pair of thieves came riding in the dark,” Kiesza continues singing as she rides, “and they both went down with bullets in the heart.”

From there, the video cuts to a scene at Lazy T Ranch, where Kiesza sings and dances with a group against red rock canyon walls in the background.

“Where’d you go, where’d you go,” Kiesza asks, “When you die, I don’t know whether heaven or hell takes us home.”

She only knows that “we all go out alone.”

Kiesza, in her West Side interview, says the song came together as she thought about Gibbons’ poem, and put herself in Place’s shoes.

“I’d probably run with the gold,” she said. “So, I adopted that perspective of this woman, dealing with death and loss, running away on horseback.”

Wyoming cowboy historian Clay Gibbons is featured in Kiesza’s latest release, “The Mysterious Disappearance of Etta Place.”
Wyoming cowboy historian Clay Gibbons is featured in Kiesza’s latest release, “The Mysterious Disappearance of Etta Place.” (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Wyoming Video Actually Shot In Wyoming

The Wyoming locations chosen for the video were all selected and arranged by Gibbons.

“She wanted to do it at the Hole in the Wall, but that’s a long way away, as you’re well aware, to take the whole production crew there,” Gibbons said.

The road to the Hole in the Wall hideout — today part of Kristen and Barry Crago’s Willow Creek Ranch — where Butch Cassidy once frequented is nothing but a two-track in many places. In some places, it might be generous to call it that. Sometimes, it’s more of a dry creek bed. It takes half a day to traverse these rugged pathways, even at speeds faster than most might travel such routes.

Obviously, Gibbons needed some other location for the filming.

About that same time frame, he was asked to give a talk on the Spring Creek Raid at the Lazy T Ranch, and it was there he realized that would be the perfect location for the video.

“It’s a gorgeous place with all these beautiful red hills and red cliffs, just like the Hole in the Wall has,” Gibbons said.

The only thing they wanted in return was for Gibbons to return in June to have dinner and tell the Spring Creek Raid story once again — a great trade all around, and he immediately said yes.

The “Mysterious Disappearance of Etta Place” is actually one of two related videos Kiesza did while in Wyoming. The other music video is called “Strangers.”

“So, a lot of nice things happened because of all this, from Kiesza needing a location,” he said. “I got to meet all the people at Lazy T, and they are wonderful people, I got to be a guest there and have dinner with them and meet some of their wonderful guests.”

In fact, wonderful things have not stopped happening since then.

Gibbons has recently been invited to come be on stage with Kiesza this fall at a concert with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Performing there was a bucket list item for her, she told Gibbons, and she wanted him to come do that with her.

“And so I said, ‘So you’re asking this old cowboy from Wyoming if he wants to come up to Calgary to the Symphony Hall and sing or recite my poem with the famous Kiesza on stage with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra? How could I refuse that?’” Gibbons said. “So that’s my plan. I’m gonna meet her up there and do that. It’s going to be fun to see her in concert!”

And that’s the tale of how a Wyoming cowboy ended up with his own cowboy poetry woven into one of the world’s most famous singers’ songs, with a video that showcases Wyoming outlaw history against a backdrop that is, for a change, actually Wyoming.

Contact Renee Jean at renee@cowboystatedaily.com

Clay Gibbons is a Wyoming historian who has written two poems in his lifetime, one of which is featured in a new music video by a Canadian pop star.
Clay Gibbons is a Wyoming historian who has written two poems in his lifetime, one of which is featured in a new music video by a Canadian pop star. (Clay Gibbons via Facebook)

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Renée Jean

Business and Tourism Reporter