November 7, 2013

Stepping out of the Photograph, Momentarily - But Staying in Character Always

I jumped off my Pony and hopped down out of the photograph onto the Great Plains 'set' for a photograph in front of MY RANCHING LIFE BILLBOARD. Transitioning from the Black and White version of my life to the full on color version. 

My ranching partner getting a closer look at MY RANCHING LIFE BILLBOARD as we reminisced about the scene depicted in the photograph when we were working with the crew gathering cattle on the Brunsch Ranch. Reality meets reality.

Ala Gil Sheperd in "Purple Rose of Cairo" MY RANCHING LIFE Ranching Partner emerges from within the photograph transitioning from the Black and White version of himself riding on the point of the herd to the present tense full color version of himself ... Except, no acting involved - full on real deal through and through ... Both characters are one in the same ... (Lyle O'Bryan & MY RANCHING LIFE BILLBOARD September 29, 2013) ...

November 6, 2013


October 15, 2013


Riding Alongside My Ranching Partner toward the Back of Porcupine
DAILY DIARY "Gathered big beautiful muddy Porcupine pasture on the Badure ranch with a crew of ten cowboys ... Rode toward the back on my Paint and looked across expansive beautiful yucca covered rolling river breaks and badlands buttes ... Way Across the draw my ranching partner looked right out of a western painting riding high along a ridge silhouetted against a just daylight sky ... Other riders way off atop ridges behind lines of multi colored cattle ... We all converged after a mile or so and held the herd up while the heifers and steers were worked off ... At one point I rode up on a hill top to hold the cut and looked back down upon the scene I had just been in to see the herd flanked by cowboys while two of them head and heeled a big calf and stretched him out while another cowboy doctored him ... Cowboys in woolie and studded leather chaps along with beautiful golden fall leaves and grasses made it feel like a gorgeous set and as if I were watching a movie that I get to take part in ... Nice being a part of a crew that works cattle the old cowboy way ..."

My Ranching Partner Across the Draw on the next Ridge

Henry, Me & 2 Pair
Cowboy on a far off Ridge Gathering Pasture

Baxter Badure Working Charolais Heifers and Steers Off
The Last of the Herd After the Cut
Joe, Baxter and Wade Doctor a Calf in the Herd

October 8, 2013


I had a wonderful time taking my ranching partner up to record an interview in the fabulous STORY CORPS  Airstream. While 40 minutes can barely scratch the surface of a long cowboy life it was a great experience. Thank you to the StoryCorps team and of course to Lyle O'Bryan & his trusty harmonica.

August 20, 2013

South Dakota Cowboys in The New York Times

Thank you to James Estrin for publishing MY RANCHING LIFE series on The New York Times LENS BLOG - letting the world see the family ranchers / cowboys at work in South Dakota.

During the interview with James, I realized my artist statement may be a little general in describing the many events which transpire during a ranching year - working alongside my ranching partner, Lyle O'Bryan, for the past ten years. When I showed up, Lyle was working on his own.

The cattle spend their time out on the range - grazing in the big wide open. Mid March - mid April is our calving season. During calving, it is all about riding on the cows, six to eight hours daily, for several weeks, to see that all is going well. I ride north, alone, in a pasture of several thousand acres to look at the cows. Last year, with the drought, there was no grass. We kept the cows on the river bottom and hayed them more. When riding, you look for any cows in trouble - backwards calf, taking too long to calve once they start,  'mothering' abandoned calves etc ... If there is a problem we trail them in to the barn where we can tend to them better. Sometimes this doesn't work and we have to handle it in the pasture. Spring calving season often gets the added challenge of blizzards and snow storms. If a calf gets 'chilled' we pull a sled behind our horse and bring them in to warm them up and see that they 'suck'. Sometimes our timing is good - sometimes not. You have to get calves mothered up, graft a calf who lost it's mother onto another cow, pull calves that aren't coming out properly etc. While I ride, my ranching partner hays the cows. Sometimes we ride together. If a calf has scourers we rope it and give it a pill and keep it from getting dehydrated. You rescue as many calves and cows you can - sometimes things are out of your control. Green grass with nursing cows brings the possibility of grass tetany. We keep hi mag mineral out for the cows - sometimes riding with a pack horse to replenish. If a cow is wobbling around, you try and drive her to mineral. If she is down, try and inject the minerals needed into her juggler, after roping her down or getting her in a chute. Once the grass gets beyond this initial stage it levels out - unless there is a major hail storm. We also watch for cows getting bogged down in the mud around the dams and pull them out of they are stuck. Though it can be challenging, I enjoy the singular focus of calving season and no longer try to multi - task with my photography business. I don't like to have anything else on the agenda - just think about one thing - riding on the cows and calves and getting them fed.
Snapshot of Henry & Me trying to relocate an abandoned calf  - Spring 2013
Snapshot of Spatz and her New Baby - Spring 2013
Lyle on Foxy Packing Mineral on Rocky
Calving season leads into branding season in May. The ranching community south of Belvidere, South Dakota and beyond has a strong neighboring system. Family ranchers help each other out in the spring at branding time and in the fall when cattle are worked and at shipping time later in the Fall. On the Quarter Circle XL Ranch, we neighbor with the following ranches : Badure, Double X, 7 Cross, Willard, Fox, Forune, Anderson, Devries, and Brunsch. These ranchers neighbor with us and other ranchers in the area - making for a good sized crew. The ranchers here brand in the traditional way : building a wood fire, roping and wrastling. Making for a timeless experience and allowing me to cover many miles on horseback in the Spring and Fall and take photographs on many different ranches - not to mention the camaraderie. Branding days consist of beautiful sunrise gathers with the crew and great home made lunches afterwards. I usually do a lot of wrastling, some roping and sometimes vaccinate.
Branding Day on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch - 2007 - MY RANCHING LIFE Series

After branding season, summer begins. The cows and calves are out in the big wide open pastures as they are all year long. They graze and we ride on them to make sure they are doing ok, that there is no pink eye or foot rot and just basically making sure the water is good and grass plentiful enough. If we have to doctor a cow or calf, we rope it in the pasture - head and heel it - and give it a shot.

Haying season is in June. We put up hay to feed to the cows in the winter and spring. I usually cut the hay while my ranching partner bails the hay. We just work around the weather and get it done. Later in the summer, we move and stack the bails. During June we also turn the bulls out - yee haw - which starts the entire process over again. In between cutting and bailing hay, Lyle or I ride on the yearlings to make sure the bulls are with the cows and yearlings. Fencing happens in the spring, summer and fall also. No one ever catches up on fencing.

Fall cattle work starts later in August. Ranchers get their calves in to give them their Fall shots - to keep them healthy and to fulfill requirements from buyers. This involves some beautiful morning gathers of large herds - with the crew of neighboring ranchers. There is nothing like riding out, just as the sun rises, with a crew of 15-20 cowboys - everyone in full gear. Like going back in time.

We also help neighbors trail their cattle several miles to and from summer and fall pastures. Sorting cattle happens in the Fall too. When we sort we work pairs off and chose the calves we want to keep over to breed. It is so nice when the temperatures drop and it comfortable to be in full cowboy gear again.
Fall Cattle Work on the Badure Ranch - MY RANCHING LIFE Series
Late October into early November is when ranchers start to ship calves and work off replacement heifers to keep. While also getting the cows to winter pasture in order to utilize and also rest all the grass on the ranches - to not over graze.

Putting Pairs Back out on the Double X Ranch - MY RANCHING LIFE Series
December begins feeding time for the cattle and replacement heifers and bulls. I enjoy feeding cattle, heading out with a pickup full of cake. My Ranching parnter or I stand atop a quiet high river break and call the cattle in - watching them trail in from far away. As they approach and surround the pickup it is just us and the cows and the big wide open. So peaceful expect for their mooing and calling back to us. I hop in back and scoop off many shovels of cake while the cows run along beside.  Lyle did this alone for many years - tying to steering wheel while hopping in the back to scoop the cake. Many ranchers figure ways to cover things on their own and make it work. After I have scooped the cake out, I look back to a long line of black cows eating. We take along an ax to chop 6 "- 10" thick ice at a couple river crossings and a few dams each day so the cows can get a daily drink of water.
Daily Diary Snapshot of the Herd Stringing in For Cake

Daily Diary Snapshot of Part of the Herd - Snowy Feeding Day

Daily Diary Snapshot - Driving Away From a Caked Bunch of Cattle

 Then it all starts over again ... Amongst all of this are poetic moments of riding under a clear starry sky - riding in 50 mph winds - rescuing calves - antelope running by - eagles flying overhead ... endless beauty out in the big wide open.

My Ranching Life 35mm Negatives

I came across a roll of 35mm film from several years back. Working cattle with Chris Elwood, Diana Elwood, Lyle O'Bryan, Baxter Badure and crew on the old Double X Ranch. Happy days with good friends working out in the big wide open. So much archiving to do.

August 2, 2013

Lyle O'Bryan - Super Cowboy

Lyle O'Bryan on Cody High Atop a River Break on his Quarter Circle XL Ranch

Film Still from MY RANCHING LIFE series. I hear an enormous swelling cinematic soundtrack when I look at this photograph and think of all the experiences had on the Quarter Circle XL Ranch and all the images, in my mind, of Lyle cowboying.

I was in Deadwood the other day and took Lyle in to see some photographs from MY RANCHING LIFE series at The Lodge at Deadwood. I got a little choked up watching Lyle look at this photograph of himself on Stringy - who is no longer on the ranch - and holding my first horse, Beau. Although he was rough riding and kind of crazy, Lyle had Stringy broke to work and cut cattle without any bridle. I can definitely feel the passage of time now - it is all at a different stage - as hard as I try to make time stand still around me.

MY RANCHING LIFE "Lyle on Stringy Holding my Beau-Horseshoe Butte"

Lyle walked up to take a close look at the prints. A real deal looking at a photograph of himself, the real deal. While doing so, a girl from the establishment approached and handed him one of my cards while describing the woman who took the photographs. Lyle replied "Yes, I know her - she leases my place." Very funny. Reality meets what looks like fantasy but is full on reality.

Lyle looking at a print from MY RANCHING LIFE : "Lyle Wrangling Horses"

I hope my photographs serve a greater purpose, one day. This is a story of real people doing real ranch work in rural America as my life intertwines with it all. The connections to the cowboys and cowboying of the past are getting fewer and fewer. Lyle is a living example of their teachings and experience. Today is tomorrow's legacy. Long live the American Cowboy.

July 12, 2013

And Now for Our Feature Presentation

MY RANCHING LIFE Billboard Project - Interstate 90 Eastbound
Mile Marker 76.86 ... Amongst all the Wall Drug Billboards ...
At the Intersection of Past & Present
A view of my view from the saddle of the filmic world that is MY RANCHING LIFE - full of the western heritage that lives on within the ranching communities of South Dakota. 
Thank you to my ranching business partner Lyle O'Bryan for inviting me into the ranching world and crew south of Belvidere, South Dakota - allowing me to step across the threshold into what seems like another era packed with drama and adventure. Thanks also to the rest of the crew of cowboys past present and no longer with us who are the cast of characters in MY RANCHING LIFE photographic series. And of course thanks to my supporting cast of cattle and horses  - who make it all happen. More stories, photographs and details to come ... stay tuned.
(Funded in part by the South Dakota Arts Council Project Grant : South Dakota Arts Council support is provided with funds from the State of South Dakota, through the Department of Tourism and the National Endowment for the Art.) THANK YOU.
"Riding Drag on the Brunsch Ranch"   ( on my old trusty photo Pony BEAU)


MY RANCHING LIFE Billboard Project
South Dakota Interstate 90 - Mile Marker 76.86

(Funded in part by the South Dakota Arts Council - thank you)

May 4, 2013

Cover and Story : South Dakota Magazine

"Wanna See My Picture on the Cover of South Dakota Magazine" Thanks to the Katie Hunhoff at South Dakota Magazine for putting my photograph on the cover of the May / June issue.
Also, be sure to turn to page 24 to see my photograph of a True Original Cowboy, Baxter Badure, and a short story on how to dress like a cowboy. Of course no one has as much style and individuality as Baxter Badure, who draws from his collection of personally made and historical gear for his daily cowboying. The chaps on the cover were vintage Powder River chaps he rebuilt and added hundreds if not thousands of 'spots' and the woolies inside were made by him as well as many other pairs, many many saddles, headstalls, saddle bags etc ... a true artist. And yes, he outbid me for those gorgeous vintage beaded gloves.  I sure landed in a good area to learn to cowboy amongst the crew south of Belvidere - with cowboys like Lyle O'Bryan and Baxter Badure who carry on tradition and heritage.

When I first started working here I was such a novice and sort of unsure of my path. Then as I was riding one day I looked across the pasture and saw old time cowboy Lyle O'Bryan riding, silhouetted against big puffy clouds, and another time Baxter Badure came riding over the hill in full on cowboy gear and flowing coat and gloves, six shooter etc and I thought ok ... I am really inspired and will have people to photograph constantly ... making it feel even more as if I had gone back in time and was endlessly riding on a movie set from the past. Hard to explain - just meant to be I guess.

Lyle O'Bryan Riding Stringy Under the Great Plains Sky

Thanks to Lyle and Baxter for being so generous and letting me snap away whenever I want. You will go down in pictorial cowboy history while inspiring kids of the future to look back and say, 'hey I want to be a cowboy' - when the look at your photographs and they will be looking at photographs of the real deal.

Lyle O'Bryan on Cody on his Quarter Circle XL Ranch

The story inside South Dakota Magazine is short and sweet but all the aspects of cowboy dress and gear have history behind them and come from an origin of functionality and practical purpose. It is great to work and ride with cowboys who carry on the past and bring it forward into present day everyday work and dress. There is a reason for a stacked heel on a cowboy boot - to keep your foot from going through the stirrup and being drug by your horse etc ... A wide brimmed hat keeps the rain and sun off ... chaps protect etc ... here is a link to one of my all time favorite photographers, the great Erwin E. Smith and a teaching guide that has a lot of information on cowboy gear and history and of course the most spectacular online collection of Erwin E. Smith photographs  - thanks to the Amon Carter Museum.

A friend in my past gave me Erwin Smith's photography book along with Evelyn Cameron's book. At the time I was traveling out West working on my GO WEST series and had not moved yet. I didn't quite see how it would all come together and in some ways become my life. Those two books have been major influences on my life and have been bedside in my bunkhouse since I started working on the ranch. Funny how people pass through your life and present things along the way.

"Kitty" and me in my old Quarter Circle XL "bunkhouse"

Photographs of modern south of Belvidere cowboying that look like old time cowboying.

Baxter Badure at the Pines Corral : from the series MY RANCHING LIFE

Long live the True American Working Cowboys and the history they represent. I feel lucky to get to work alongside a few of them for a bit.

April 12, 2013

Post Snow Storm Calving Moment

Lyle O'Bryan on Henry - pulling a heifer's new born calf in to the barn with mama following behind.

March 17, 2013


COWBOY PHOTOGRAPHING PHOTOGRAPHER PHOTOGRAPHING COWBOY - Paul Scherf took a shot for me of me photographing Baxter Badure on the Badure Ranch - Belvidere, South Dakota. I pulled out my old GO WEST backdrop which I love even more now that I have GONE WEST. Making for a nice mix of real and fake reality. Of course on the Badure ranch one could photograph for days on end with endless wardrobe changes of handmade Baxter Badure chaps - vintage beaded leather gloves and coats - saddles etc etc ... limitless possibilities to photograph real life characters who look as if they stepped right out of the movies which portray the characters of the West of the past. Life on this 'movie set' is grand.

Now I have gone full circle. My GO WEST drop from the mid 1990's that I took around the West with me to photograph at rodeos  The landscape of which I felt as if I was inhabiting and riding my Pony around in when I first started working on the ranch almost ten years ago. Now, stepping outside of it a bit to look back at all the experiences and adventure I have had so far - all the great cowboys I have had a chance to work and ride with. Standing in front of it,  in my cowboy 'costume', straight off horseback to do a little photo shoot in between action scenes on the wide open 'backlot' Range. Being photographed by a cowboy to top it off. Like riding the outside full circle of life. I feel so fortunate to have been welcomed onto Lyle O'Bryan's ranch and into the world of the ranchers and crew and history south of Belvidere, South Dakota. Changing the course of my life drastically when I jumped on the back of a horse and rode along with an old time "Gus" cowboy onto the set of  a grand epic Cinemascope adventure. Life imitates art imitates life. I like it best when I can't tell the difference between the two and each day on the ranch feels as if I am riding within a movie scene. The cinematic ranch life continues. Giddy up Pony.

March 11, 2013

One for Chris & Diana

Penning cattle on the old Double X Fall of 2011. The sun had just come up and was casting nice long shadows - making the crew appear in double. In back in the light chaps is Diana Elwood. Her husband Chris Elwood is up front on the point. This is near the end of their long stint as managers of the old Double X - good memories. The rest of the crew : Colter Carlson, Baxter Badure, Cole Heinemann, Bob Fortune, Charlie Fortune and myself. Came across this negative and made me think time spent working on horseback with my friends Chris and Diana - riding on the movie set like beautiful old double X in true cowboy country. How lucky I was to get to ride the range for several years with the cowboying couple. (double click to enlarge photograph)

March 7, 2013

Lyle Breaking My Colt Henry

Lyle breaking Henry on his Quarter Circle XL Ranch. Back when Henry was a youngster. A true cowboy and horseman at work - here he is working Henry and warming him up before he gets on for the first time - he also did some foot work getting him to give and work his feet. At 78, Lyle continues to ride young horses and get them just right. Henry was one of the last two colts Lyle started from scratch. I feel lucky to have been a part of that. I got Henry as a yearling at the sale barn in Philip, South Dakota back in the early days of my ranching adventure. I had no plans to buy a baby horse but when he came into the sale ring I said that's the horse I want. I remember lifting Henry up to get him into the horse trailer as he was so little. Bringing him back to the ranch to start his new life. We fed him and took care of him until he was ready to break - with a few delays because of injuries to Lyle. He bucked a lot when Lyle first put the saddle on him and if you you cinch him up tight and hurry to get on him before he is warmed up, he will start to buck. A mistake I made a couple times. The first time I remember Lyle's voice from across the corral - 'get off!" as I could feel Henry start to hump and luckily I stepped off before he blew up. Every time I get all confident it all wakes me up again and reminds me to be thoughtful and take all the necessary steps. He did it again a few months ago but we rode it out and it was minor but reminded me to be present and mindful and not rushed when riding a live animal! Lyle has made Henry a good horse - nice and light in the mouth - any bad traits he has are most likely from me - we have had our moments at river crossings and him throwing fits with me - something that would not happen if Lyle were riding him.  My fears get the best of me sometimes - I am not anywhere near the Lyle O'Bryan level - someone who has spent fifty plus year riding whatever was handed to him to ride and making it work - staying in the saddle the majority of the time while doing it. Lets see how calving season goes as I get back into daily riding - should be good.

March 5, 2013

Baxter Badure Saddle

Paul Scherf - on the Badure Ranch next door a few years back - holding his original Baxter Badure saddle. A one-of-a-kind work of art to keep for a lifetime.

March 1, 2013

Working on the Old Thode Ranch and Crossing the Same White River

John Thode on the Ranch back in the early 1900's. Me on the Ranch in the early 2000's riding in the footsteps of the old time cowboys but hardly comparing to. But fun to give it a try ... I will have to learn to spin a rope. (John Thode photograph courtesy of his sister Mildred Thode Sleep) They sure rode some rough and tumble ranchy horses back then. Funny to sleep in the same house as they all did - crossing paths continuously indoors and outdoors and moving from past to present at all times it seems. Long live the ranchers of today carrying on the heritage of the cowboys of the past. They sure lived a simple hearty life.

The first photo below is of the Thodes, back in the early 1900's, bringing cattle across the White River Crossing where the cable car used to cross. It is the crossing near the old house and headquarters. The panorama photograph is Lyle O'Bryan on the ranch, in the early 2000's, bringing the horses across the same White River Crossing as I ride ahead to get the shot

This is the first crossing I went down on horseback - so much for my camera that time. ha ... I am sure the Thodes swam their horses across when the river got high. Lyle sure has crossed this river thousands of times in his 50 years on the ranch - on many many a horse of varying degrees of wildness. I just watched him ride out onto the ice yesterday trying to save a sick heifer as she went crashing through the ice. Luckily Lyle did not do the same. She got back up and out of the water but headed across into no mans land. The river can be tricky. I was riding behind Lyle when I first got here. We were chasing a bull - I mean geez what did I know. "Here get on this horse - we are going to chase bulls" - "Okay". ha ha ... We really had to get after him to get him to cross the river. As we were crossing, he lunged at Lyle's horse and they both went down in front of me - luckily the bull didn't land on them. That was one of my first doses of reality.  I also heard a story of Lyle going down in the river when the icy cold water splashed up onto his fresh horse. The other cowboys tell of how he barely touched the water before he was back up and on his horse. Nothing like icy water to motivate a cowboy.

The 'that was then' and the 'this is now' feel kind of the same it seems.
©Jean Laughton

Calving Season Is Fast Approaching

Lyle on Foxy - Pulling a newborn chilled calf to shelter.

February 28, 2013

A Few From the series : MY RANCHING LIFE 2003 - Present

Baxter Badure & Goat Helping on Lyle O'Bryan's Ranch
Mark Devries Dragging A Calf In - Willard Ranch

Chris Elwood Working Cattle on the Double X When He Was Foreman

Wade Fox on the Badure Ranch

Baxter Badure on Paint - Double X Ranch
Stanton Anderson Roping on His App - Brunsch Ranch

Stopping For A Drink After Working Cattle on the Double X Ranch

Working Cattle on the Badure Ranch

Lyle and Rocky Getting Ready to Ride in the Rain