December 15, 2012

Crossing My Own Path

"Me on Pony photographing Lyle O'Bryan on Foxy on the White River on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch on or around the year of 2005" ... I crossed paths with this photograph and the former me today while watering a small herd of cattle on the river at a hole we chopped in the ice. I sat on my horse taking in the same view of golden river breaks in the quiet stillness of just the cows on the ice and snow. When I let my thoughts drift, it is like a flip book of experiences and images from the past several years of ranching passing through my brain. Working with older friends is some days like a accelerated time lapse photography sequence that I so want to slow down - but some days it is as if time stands still or reverses to watch a 78 year old cowboy in action - still on his game and sitting tall in the saddle. Funny how the same horse I ride can look so much better when a real horseman like Lyle rides him. Doing my best to stay in the now and document it all but can't help but daydream about all the adventure I have been lucky to be a part of along the way. ©JEAN LAUGHTON

December 10, 2012

Caking Time Again

I am looking forward to winter feeding time again. The peacefulness and calm of it. Standing atop a hill calling in the herd from far away. Sitting in silence soaking up the view while watching them trail in ... getting to see the cattle every other day and check on them. Spending time in nature with animals is grand.

Random Ranching Snapshot

December 5, 2012

It's That TIme of the Year Again ...

Meanwhile ... Still on the Ranch ...

I have been busy and in post calf sale pre winter transition ... more ranching stories to come ... Stay Tuned ...

October 24, 2012

Baxter Badure 2003

The day I went on my first ride with the crew south of Belvidere before I had any idea I would, one day, be part of the crew.

Baxter Badure - one hard working son-of-a-gun ... A-1 neighbor, friend and photo subject. Walking western heritage.

Plus husband, father, son, saddle maker, chap maker, leather carver, collector and of course cowboy / rancher.

From the Archives

Branding on the Badure Ranch - Back when I first got the Noblex - around 2005 ...
L to R :
Wade Fox on Horseback
Paul Scherf on the Head
Al Badure Branding
Chris Elwood on the Tail
Lyle O'Bryan on Foxy

October 20, 2012

Baxter Badure on Paint : Moving Badure's Cattle Several Years Back

We helped our neighbors, the Badures, trail a bunch of their cattle the remaining 8 -10 miles back from summer pasture. It is funny how certain yearly work can make the time seem to fly, reverse or stand still - I can't decide which. As I ride along I can imagine the photographs I took of the same work last year and the year before that and etc .... The scene switches from past to present in my mind and from black and white to color and appears as if from a movie I have watched or 'acted' in a few times.
We left the Badure home place with a pickup full of cowboys and trailered, with the horses, several miles to where the cattle had overnighted from the previous day's partial journey. And it seems, it is never too early for cowboys to be telling their jokes and stories. We got to our starting point - unloaded the seven horses - cinched up and headed to the back of the pasture. As I rode along with Baxter, Cole and Wade - the sun was about halfway up on the horizon in front of us - we chatted and joked as we rode along then split up and spread out to gather the herd along with Lyle, Al and Charlie. When we got to the gate, we funneled the pairs through and counted them out the gate. Down the road we headed -  for several miles and Colter and Joe joined us on horseback. We went through an underpass with traffic whizzing by overhead ... if ever the past met the present ... this was a pretty obvious spot. Just as the cows went under, a truck with a giant load of hay drove overtop - a reminder of the ongoing drought. It is always a relief to get the cows through an underpass, but one cow hung back and didn't want to cross the black top - she must have thought she was going to drop into a big black hole - who knows what goes through a cow's mind - but even the thought of her calf up ahead didn't lure her across. So, three cowboys rode back and roped her and 'led' her across the road. Two guys each had a rope around her neck and rode on each side of her urging her along and that got her across. Then they 'tripped' her to get her slowly down so another guy could walk up and get the two ropes off the neck while the other two stayed on horseback. I rode back and got a quick snapshot of the old timey looking cattle work  - it made me think of an Erwin E. Smith photograph of traditional cowboy work - timeless.  I was glad one of the guys suggested going back and he would cover for me - I sometimes really put my photography on the back burner. And it all worked out - they got the cow away from the road and back with her calf and happily trailing along. 

After crossing some old defunct railroad tracks - tracks that used to carry the cattle cars full of stock to market - we headed across Lyle O'Bryan's pasture. Here, the image switched to color - like the colors of a WillIam Albert Allard photograph on the cover of his book "Vanishing Breed". The mixed color herd strung out - appeared to be heading up a golden hill into the big grand turquoise and partly cloudy sky above. I had a gorgeous view from the back of the herd from the back of my horse, Cody. 

Meanwhile,  Lyle and Al rode ahead to push Lyle and my cows out of the way so we could bring the herd through and a few miles across to a gravel road. Once on the road, we trailed a few miles more to the bridge crossing the White River. You have to pour it on at the bridge to get them focused and in a trot so they won't turn back or baulk - sometimes a horse will baulk when he sees the change in color and texture of the concrete on the bridge. I am always happier to be NOT riding on pavement. We got across the bridge and as I rode along looking at the crew I felt lucky I landed in a ranching neighborhood where the cowboys work traditionally and also dress traditionally - offering endless visual splendor like a perfectly art directed Western movie. 

We trailed down the road a bit farther - letting an occasional truck or car by now and then  - yes this isn't 1880, even though I sometimes forget, and we are not on the Chisholm trail. Even though I can go there mentally so often. We turned right at the mailbox and trailed them the last stretch up the long driveway to a pasture by the house. The cows had gotten the grand tour and were ready for a cool breeze. 

As we worked some of the larger steer pairs off,  I would catch a glimpse of one of the cowboys out of the corner of my eye and the way his hat was shaped and the way sitting on his horse took me back in time again to black and white and a C.D. Kirkland or Charles E. Morris photograph. Then I  looked the other way and a cowboy in woolies reminded me of a L.A. Huffman photograph. I do so love blurring the focus in and out of reality and fantasy - in between now and then - riding in a photograph come to life surrounded by characters appearing to be from another time.

We trailed part of the herd to water and I stopped Baxter to take a shot against the gorgeous sky sitting atop his white horse. We ran the rest of the herd through and gave them their fall shots to keep them healthy and weened them - so it will be noisy around the ranch until the mother cows decide it is a relief to not have a calf hanging around and they will get back to grazing and think nothing of it.

Just a few notes about a Fall ranching day's picturesque work and just a few of the photographers who inspire my daydreams and reality.


October 13, 2012

I have seen many of Charles E. Morris's photographs as postcards and uncredited in photography books on the West. I am happy to know his story now and to know the photographer behind so many great photographs. He was capturing cowboying on photographic plates at the same time Charles Russell was putting it on canvas.

Here is an excerpt from the book "True, Free Spirit Charles E Morris Cowboy Photographer of the Old West" by Bill Morris - Published by Advanced Litho Printing Great Fall, Montana ... "Born in Glendale (now Glenn Dale), Maryland, on June 29, 1876, Charlie was only seven when his mother Lily Jones Morris died. Soon thereafter, William Morris packed up son and belongings, headed for Virginia, and wandered between that state and the area around Rome, New York, while tending apple orchards. Little Charlie, often boarded out, learned very young in life to adjust to an assortment of people and environments. It was during these lonely early years that Charlie became an avid book reader. In time, his father remarried and relocated to Chattanooga, Tennessee.

After a baby was born into the family, Charlie's feelings of being unwanted intensified. As an escape from family conflicts, the impressionable youth immersed himself in books about the cowboy's life out West. He began to envision becoming a cowboy. Thus, in June of his fourteenth year, the 1980 school term having ended, Charlie Morris set out to make his own way in the world - to make his dream a reality.

He took with him a few dollars, a bag of salt, and his father's loaded six-shooter - no horse, no mule. He was afoot. As he trekked towards the West, riding empty railroad boxcars when possible, he lived off the country, existing on wild turkeys, squirrels, artichoke, watercress, berries, and whatever else he came across that he had read of as the impartial fare of the frontiersman. The country was bountiful, and he managed exceedingly well.

The youth began to follow the famous cattle trails, as described in books he had read, so, in time, found himself at the outskirts of Fort Worth, Texas. With almost the last of his money, he had been able to buy a good, well- broken cayuse, saddle, blanket, halter, and water bag. It being a cloudy day, he soon got lost in some hills but was able to shoot a squirrel with the ancient 32-20, now down to five cartridges. As he was feasting on the rodent, along came some friendly Indians who pointed the way north.

In a few days, he arrived out of Decatur, Texas, at the Coburn Ranch just as they were in need of a chore boy and flunky. This was the break he needed to rest and feed up his horse (and himself) and at the same time gather in a few dollars to buy the necessary items that a starting out "green" cowboy required. In time the youth was to acquire an older, but well-fitting saddle, boots, recycled spurs and bridle, a used 44-40 Winchester, a slicker and of course a Stetson.

It was not difficult in those days for a single cowhand to find work, except during winters. There was always the need of a willing hand, even if sometimes it was only splitting logs for beans and coffee, plus oats for his horse. So Charlie was employed that summer by the Ogallala Cattle Company as a green horse wrangler, a nighthawk, and began to learn rapidly, being a natural roper and cayuse handler.

As early fall rolled around, with a few extra dollars left after becoming fully equipped, he again headed northwest to Wyoming and 'undreamed of' adventures in that Territory..... When young Charlie joined the Bloom outfit as a 'jingler" (a wrangler), he discovered amazing country - country to a cowboy's liking. His job was to help herd thousands of cattle over hundreds of miles of prairie and across many rivers : from the Belle Fourche River in Wyoming, the Powder west into Montana, to the Yellowstone River, then north to the Missouri, and finally the Milk River in north central Montana.

....To his delight, Charlie found that here in Montana a cowboy could still ride all day and never see a fence. It was virgin country where buffalo grass still blew in the wind, and few plows had tasted the earth. Here was a graze enough for all, a land in which compatibility still existed for the most part between cowmen and sheep men - and it proved to be such dynamic exciting country that young Charlie longed for a way to capture it forever, for it was capturing his heart."

"Old timers recall with fondness and pride the work of Chas. E. Morris, whose pictures both accurately and artistically portray the two decades which bridge the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My father knew as friends early cattlemen, sheepmen, and Indians of this part of the state. He photographed their herds at roundups, their land, and their families. In later years, friends spent many hours in his store reminiscing of their days on the range. Morris's photos graced the walls of their homes. Throughout the world, they mailed Morris's postcards of their West."

So glad I found this book and another great story behind the photographs.

September 18, 2012

Some 'Day in the Life Of' Writing

(Working cattle today reminded me of C.D. Kirkland's gorgeous photographs from the 1880's - everywhere I looked was another picturesque scene from the past ... I love living between time periods)

Monday - September 17, 2012 : 4am call time in my chilly dark Scotty Camper. I put on my 'costume' of chaps, spurs and hat and stepped out onto the prairie stage for today's scene. We walked out to the old log barn, under a partly starry sky, to saddle up the horses by lantern light. Loaded Cody & Foxy in the old ranch trailer and headed down the road about 30 miles to the Brunsch Ranch. The first beginnings of daylight were starting to appear as I saw what I think was the Space Station fly overhead - appearing intermittently through the clouds. Oblivious deer lingered in the barely visible ditches and passing badlands just began to come into view as the 'stage' was gradually lit as if by a dimmer switch.

We pulled off of highway 44 just past Corn Creek, and drove down the long driveway of the Brunsch ranch as ranchers from all directions arrived to help work cattle. This is the first time we have 'neighbored' with Misty and Alan Brunsch, on their own, since their Father, Jack Brunsch, died suddenly this summer. They are both in their 20's and they came back home to take over the running of the ranch and all of the challenges and responsibilities which come with the job. They did a great job today. Jack raised two good hands capable of handling whatever comes their way. The ranchers I cowboy with knew Jack most of his life and it was a surreal feeling to not have him there. Funny stories were told and fond remembrances discussed as the crew of hearty ranchers have a positive way of dealing with loss. Today we were all there to get the usual annual fall ranch work accomplished. I couldn't help but think Jack was going to come riding in and hollering behind the herd.

We parked the horse trailers in a line to create a wing for penning the herd. Then a crew of twelve of us headed out on horseback to gather the cattle. The sun was coming up as we rode to the back of the big pasture. As we were riding along Alan's horse jumped in the air and reared up while about going over backward - sending Alan through the air landing flat on his back. He jumped to his feet and still had the bridle reins in his hand. I guess that is just part of it. Little excitement to start the day - but everyone in the crew is so used to such stuff - he hopped back on and we rode on.

We spread out and gathered the black cows and calves. I rode the creek and we did our best to keep them from running East. It is always a little exciting gathering pasture on the Brunsch Ranch and best for me to switch to decaf when riding there. I found a cow bogged down in the creek with her calf standing nearby. They got her pulled out. I had a fantastic view from the saddle of cattle being trailed in from several directions forming black lines across the golden pasture. They were pushed into the corner of the pasture where the were held by surrounding cowboys. A couple of riders rode amongst the herd and worked 60 head of replacement heifers off, one at a time. This small cut was held by another cowboy. Then three of us trailed the replacements east while the rest of the crew trailed the herd into the home place and penned several hundred pairs. As we rode back from trailing the small bunch we could hear the roar of the cows bellering as the crew of cowboys worked on horseback to temporarily separate them from their calves so they could be vaccinated.

In the middle of it - we took a lunch break inside the old Brunsch ranch house where Lucille Brunsch still lives into her 90's. The house is full of old family photos that go back generations. As I sat in the small 1950's style kitchen around the table with the rest of the cowboys I thought of where I was and what I was really doing. Thought of all the family dinners that had taken place here and the years of raising kids and feeding crews of cowboys over the decades. Out the kitchen window, I could see the cows waiting on their calves and felt as if I were sitting within a three walled 'set' of an authentic family ranch house in a big movie studio. But I also remembered that this is real life and this is true family ranching carrying on amidst difficult times.

When I walked back out to continue work there were beautiful soft fluffy clouds in a blue grey sky as backdrop to the old timey corrals and windmill. Such a gorgeous image. As I have said, the land as set and stage, has a permanence - but the cast of characters changes as time rolls along. Family ranching traditions are carried on and the presence of missing family members is always felt. As I looked out, I could see that the extra horses came in to watch the action. There is something about seeing a missing cowboy's horse, without its rider, come loping across the golden prairie.

We finished working the calves and got back on our horses to push the herd back into the pasture. I rode along listening to historical stories from Lyle O'Bryan,78, who neighbored here as a young man with Jack's dad, Paul, when Jack was just a toddler. As I turned my horse around to ride back to the home place, it appeared in front of me, from a distance, like an old cowboy painting. There was a group of horses in an old wooden corral - the old wooden windmill - few modest buildings and the small family ranch house with Badlands in the near distance. As Lyle put it - it looked like a 'real cowboy outfit'. Alan and Misty carried on the cowboying traditions today and their years working with their Dad enabled them to handle it well. All of the day's work was completed and we said our goodbyes as cowboys loaded up their horses for the drive back to their respective ranches.

We drove back home with Cody and Foxy in tow, through gorgeous Badlands while struggling a bit to stay awake. When back, I wrangled horses for the next day's work. Then early to bed, as it will make it easier for an early rise tomorrow to help some other neighbors. Such is family ranching south of Belvidere, South Dakota and the beginning of a new chapter for one ranching family. ©JEAN LAUGHTON

September 12, 2012

On the Quarter Circle XL Today

This scene, from a vintage postcard, is pretty much what today looked like on the ranch. Living life, as if in a vintage photograph, can be quite interesting.

My ranching partner and I did a little late branding today. Or, since we already did some late branding last month, maybe this was more like a late late branding - like the late late movies of yore. Our crew consisted of two cowboys instead of four.  First we built our fire from scratch - chopping up a piece of cedar into fine pieces for kindling - then once that was burning - adding more wood to get the fire hot. When the fire was ready, I started roping the big ol' calves and drug them down. Then, Lyle, my 78 year old ranching partner, stepped in to pull them over and tied up their front legs while I held onto the back legs with my dally - like the photograph above. If I only caught a single 'hocker' he would take my loop off, quickly, while I undallied - to place it around both hind legs then I would dally again and stretch the rope out tight. With only a small group in the pen, they got to running a bit,  so I didn't always get them by both back legs - although I should have. And once, there was most likely a world record set in between catches - giving cowboy and cattle time to reflect - ha ha. While I held on to the back legs and stayed dallied - Lyle ear marked, vaccinated, cut the steers (or soon to be steers) and branded. When that was all finished, he untied the front feet and I undallied and gave the rope slack and, voila, the calf stepped out of my loop ready to head back out to pasture and not be bothered again. Good to be getting the later bunch vaccinated to keep them all healthy as it has been a hot dry summer.

One calf was pretty hefty and would have been quite a struggle to wrastle down with one guy - so we got him by the head and heels. Since I really didn't relish the possibility of sitting somewhat helplessly atop my pony while dallied onto a giant calf and watching my partner get trampled like one other time. So ... Lyle rode in ahead of me - I guess to give me some competition - threw a loop and got a double hocker (of course) - I rode in and threw a loop around it's head and we stretched it tight so that it laid down. Here you can see a well trained ranch horse in action - Lyle was tied on hard and fast, like all old time cowboys do, and he stretched his rope tight with his horse staying in position to keep it tight - next he took his bridle reins and tied them around Henry's neck and over the rope - he then stepped off to brand and vaccinate while I kept hold on the opposite end of the calf. If the calf moved and the rope got slack - Henry, without rider, stepped back to keep it tight while Cody and I did the same on our end. At this point, I was wishing I had a camera mounted on my hat so I could document this real cowboy moment - but probably best to just pay attention to what was going on - as I do like having all ten of my fingers.

For all you cowboys out there - this will be old news - but for any greenhorns -  thought you might enjoy a description of this morning's work on the ranch. Working with an old time cowboy sure keeps me on my toes and keeps me from doing things the easy way. Today reminded me of the 'old days' when I first started working on the ranch and Lyle and I branded the entire herd by ourselves. That would have been my first semester in cowboy college. Fond memories and a renewed appreciation of what I get to do out here. ©JEAN LAUGHTON