- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2006

THE ROMANCE AND REALITY OF RANCHING: STORIES OF,

BY & FOR COWBOYS & SHEEPHERDERS

Compiled and edited by C. J. Hadley

Purple Coyote Corp. & Range Magazine, $39.95, 160 pages

GRIT, GUTS AND GLORY: PORTRAIT OF THE WEST; THE LIVES, WORK AND PLEASURES OF COWBOYS & SHEEPHERDERS

Compiled and edited by C. J. Hadley

Purple Coyote Corp. & Range Magazine, $39.95, 168 pages

SPIRIT: COWBOYS, HORSES, EARTH & SKY

Compiled and edited by C. J. Hadley

Purple Coyote Corp. & Range Magazine, $39.95, 176 pages

REVIEWED BY STEPHEN GOODE

Three years ago, C. J. Hadley, the editor of Range Magazine, brought out the first of her trilogy on the American West, “The Romance and Reality of Ranching.” That book was followed by “Grit, Guts and Glory: Portrait of the West,” and most recently by “Spirit: Cowboys, Horses, Earth & Sky.”

Photographs fill the pages of these three coffee table size books: photos of landscapes, animals and people; old photographs and new ones, too; color and black-and-white. It’s clear that Ms. Hadley loves the West and knows the region well: She’s adept at selecting images that leave a vivid imprint in the mind.

Her books also contain art work by early Western artists, such as the great Charles Marion Russell and Frederic Remington, and by popular contemporary artists such as William Matthews, Tim Cox and Jack Swanson.

And among all the pictures there are essays, stories and a smattering of cowboy poetry (cowgirl poetry, too: One of the better poems is by 83-year-old Georgie Sicking, who won the Fail Gardner Working Cowboy Poetry Award bestowed by the Arizona Cowboy Poetry Gathering, and who is also the recipient of a plaque from the Nevada Cattleman’s Association for “100,000 Miles on Horseback.”)

Georgie Sicking’s black-and-white photograph is one of the most striking in the three books, her face handsome and weathered, her eyes, at 83, very much alive and sparkling. But there are also photos of Georgie decades earlier, barrel racing at a rodeo, riding a wild calf as a kid, and with her husband Frank, soon after their marriage.

C. J. Hadley’s goal in these books is to show the West as it is. “This book is not romance,” she writes in the introduction to the third volume, “Spirit.” She amply documents the hard, endless hard work it took (and takes) to survive on a ranch, and the relentless solitude and loneliness.

A color photograph of cowboy Larry Schutte heading home “after a long, cold day checking cattle in Oasis, Nevada” underlines those aspects of Western life, as does another color photo of a landscape barren of people and animals in the same state, near the tiny high-desert town of Denio. In this photograph, a dirt road disappears into the distance. The enormous sky takes up most of the picture.

But these are books about people who relish solitude and hard work, and often say so, explaining that they couldn’t imagine living any place else happily. One of the funniest stories, by Carolyn Dufurrena, describes how as a young housewife unfamiliar with the rigors of rural life, she prepared a gourmet meal of cold soup and quiche for a hay-making crew working for her husband.

It was the best of French cuisine, but it was met by the hardworking ranch hands with total incomprehension. “This soup’s cold!” complained one of the men. After the single slice of quiche each was served, another said, “Where’s the meat?”

Another essay, by Larry Rivers, celebrates the buckaroo, a word, Mr. Rivers writes, which “refers to the cowboys and traditions of southeastern Oregon, northeastern, California, Nevada and southeastern Idaho.”

“Buckaroos,” he says (and there a number of photos that demonstrate his fact), “dress well. Right spiffy they are in the saddle, Sunday-go-to-meeting-clothes or at a Saturday social event.

“Wild rags in assorted rainbow and sky colors, wide-brimmed hats, vests, second-hand jackets, handmade high-top riding books, western-cut long-sleeve shirts buttoned to the neck, blue jeans, chaps or chinks and spurs, often with jinglebobs, slickers when the weather is crazy, a seasoned rawhide lariat, horsehair reatas and distinctive custom saddles, usually high-cantle single-rig.”

Ms. Hadley emphasizes that ranch life in the West involves families, sometimes going back six generations and more on the same land. There’s a photograph of Virgil Trujillo handing a rope to his 14-year old son, Ventura. The caption says, “Trujillo roots reach back to 1754 in the Albiquiu area of New Mexico.”

A number of old photographs evoke a West perhaps long gone, but still very much a part of the way Americans tend to feel about that part of the country. There’s a black-and-white photo of a “Woman with a rifle in doorway of her claim shack, Newell, South Dakota,” from about 1911, for example, that richly documents the backbone it took to settle these remote, harsh areas of America.

Another black-and-white photo, from around 1900, shows a different side of the West. In it, a young man proudly poses in an outfit that defines the elegant cowboy. His leather jacket with fringes, hat, leather boots, and pistol are familiar gear. But he also wears angora chaps and beaded gloves.

There’s lots of flora and fauna in these books: fields of Texas bluebonnets, single oak trees on lonely landscape, pronghorn antelopes, badgers, mountain lions, eagles, a strutting male sage grouse. There are lots of working dogs, cattle and horses.

Unforgettable are photographs of a coyote that’s invaded a henhouse, his mouth full of feathers; a group of lean and hungry cattle enduring subzero temperatures and eagerly waiting for the food that’s about to be given them; and a horse that’s laughing, yes, laughing: There’s no other explanation for the expression on his face.

A final theme of these three books is a no-nonsense, practical environmentalism. Wise ranching can exist alongside the flora and fauna wonders of the West. The movement for a cattle-free range that’s at the heart of much leftist thinking and an end to ranching is deeply misguided.

Thus J. Wayne Burckhardt, professor emeritus of range management at the University of Nevada at Reno, writes, “Photographic records from the turn of the century [he’s referring to 1900] compared to photos of current situations show tremendous improvement in the health and condition of grazed lands in the West.”

These books are packed with evidence which shows that far from destroying the environment, ranchers value where they live, take care of the land, and live at one with nature. The stories widely bruited in the media about ranchers who shoot eagles or dynamite beaver dams are the rare exception and far from the rule.

Ms. Hadley quotes from Gerald F. Kreyche’s 1989 book, “Visions of the American West,” to sum up her attitude toward the West: “Perhaps the spirit of the West is best exemplified in the way it casts aside the unnecessary complications of life. In the mythic West, everyone has an equal start. Justice is simple but effective. We all have the opportunity to start afresh. In these ideals, we approach the heart of the American Dream.”

Stephen Goode is a writer and critic in Milton, Del.

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