- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 16, 2004

BRUNEAU, Idaho — Only an authentic cow-boy could live by himself for weeks at a time on a rocky and remote patch of ground in Idaho’s central Owyhee County, a stretch of the interior West where cattle outnumber people.

At age 29, Jeremy Mink is the real deal — a buckaroo with a handlebar mustache, a .38-caliber revolver strapped to his side and a commitment to the herd of 1,400 cattle he lives with year-round.

“Good cowboys and good hands don’t make things happen. They set it up, and let it happen,” Mr. Mink says. “The objective isn’t to see how tired you can make your horse.”

Mr. Mink works for rancher Chris Black. Together, they manage Mr. Black’s herd on 187 square miles of private and leased public lands.

The art of being a cowboy today is the same as it was 150 years ago, when cowboys in the Spanish vaquero tradition roamed mountain ranges and low-slung plains.

But in some ways, today’s cowboy is as high-tech as he is high plains.

Global-positioning units tell cowboys where they are. Hand-held computers allow them to accurately record range conditions. Biomedical research allows them to vaccinate calves for up to 15 diseases at a time.

Mr. Black’s family has run cattle in Owyhee County since 1876. His tall and lean frame wears the cowboy uniform perfectly — tight Wrangler jeans, a black muscle shirt and a wide-brimmed Western straw hat.

Soft-spoken and judicious with his words, the 45-year-old former track athlete and martial-arts expert says motorcycles, four-wheelers and pickups are just as important as horses. But it’s the technology of the past 20 years that has added so much to the profession.

And formal education in ecology, biology, engineering and business management has changed the cowboy himself.

“We use methods that are more in tune with the environment, and we use a holistic approach to management,” Mr. Black says. “We’re looking for a way to enhance the system and still be here.”

But, Mr. Black says, the hardest thing about being a 21st-century ranch owner has been getting used to talking to people — and thus overcoming his natural shyness.

“Talking to people is new to us — we didn’t do that in the past,” he says. “We have to be aggressive and get our point across to people.”

Mr. Mink is a compact, wiry man who admits with a smile that he’s “wound a little tight.” Maybe it’s the solitude of the mountains. Maybe it’s the quarts of strong, black coffee he drinks every day.

His chattiness belies the cowboy stereotype, as does his flat-brimmed Australian-style leather hat.

A high-school valedictorian with a 3.98 grade-point average, Mr. Mink could have chosen almost any career path. Yet, like his father, also a cowboy, he longed for the solitary range life.

“It’s cliche, but I guess I was born about 50 years too late,” he says. “The kids I grew up with, there was a difference between how we understood work and play. People would ask me what my dad did, and I said, ‘He didn’t have a job — he didn’t have time for one.’”

From April until June, Mr. Mink lives several hours away from any passable road. In July, he moves closer to home at the small house known simply as cow camp, 31/2 miles from the nearest maintained dirt road.

Although Mr. Mink is Mr. Black’s employee, the relationship goes deeper. Both come from longtime Owyhee County families that have known each other for generations. Their mutual respect comes across even when they’re apart.

“You won’t find a better hand than him,” Mr. Mink says matter-of-factly from the driver’s seat of his pickup, as Mr. Black rode on the flatbed, spreading water in a dusty corral in preparation for the next day’s branding operation.

Mr. Black’s range runs along a north-south strip of land in central Owyhee County — a county larger than the state of New Jersey and with a little more than 11,000 residents.

During spring and summer, cattle graze openly at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. As fall approaches, the herd is trailed down into the valley, where it will spend the winter.

In summertime, Mr. Mink rises about 3:45 each morning to ready the herd’s next move. Three or four border collies hop on his motorcycle, balancing themselves on the back fender and handlebars as they ride out to meet the cows.

Through the day, he’ll keep them moving at a slow pace until about noon — or whenever the temperature climbs high enough to halt the day. Then, the cattle “shade up,” and Mr. Mink catches a nap or reads.

In the late afternoon, the animals stir as he takes charge again for a few hours. As the sun sets, Mr. Mink reaches into his kit bag and pulls out his Palm Pilot. He records the day’s activities, as well as the high and low temperatures, the weather and anything else of interest.

Later, Mr. Black will download that information into his home computer, building a historical database of everything that happens on the ground. The information is used to put together range-management plans required by federal agencies that lease 95 percent of Mr. Black’s range.


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