Photographers' Blog

At a Colorado Cattle Drive

Igancio, United States

By Lucas Jackson

According to official statistics, around one percent of the United States’ population operates farms or ranches. After eight years of living in New York, I have discovered that the land rights issues that I remember my parents discussing when I was a child in rural New Mexico are all but invisible to the remaining 99 percent.

Cowboys David Thompson and Wyatt Williams release a calf after giving it medicine after pushing a herd of hundreds of cattle across Highway 160 during a weeklong operation on a Forest Service grazing lease run by rancher Steve Pargin near Ignacio, Colorado

But ranchers’ land rights became big news recently, through one extreme example. This was the story of Cliven Bundy, a Nevada cattle rancher who stopped paying grazing fees, and whose protest became a catalyst for an armed standoff with Bureau of Land Management rangers in the Nevada desert.

This level of hostility between a rancher and the government is rare, but an unfortunate side effect of stories like Bundy’s is that many Americans begin to think that these outliers are representative of the group, which is certainly not true.

But one important similarity between someone like Bundy and an average rancher in the West is that many don’t own enough land to graze the amount of cattle that it takes to make a living. According to a 2012 congressional study, almost half of the land in the western United States is federally owned.

Cowboy David Thompson looks down on a large herd of cattle that has been gathered during a weeklong operation on a Forest Service grazing lease run by rancher Steve Pargin near Ignacio, Colorado

Having someone, whoever they are, managing the land is not such a bad thing. The 1930s “Dust Bowl” disaster, when droughts and dust storms plagued large parts of the United States, illuminated the tough reality of land overuse and poor conservation.

A close encounter of the equine kind

By Andy Clark

“Hey bud, don’t blink or you’ll miss it,” the guy behind the counter said after I answered his query as to where I was headed.

I had stopped to grab a coffee along highway 97, about a five-hour drive north into the mountains from Vancouver. My destination was the town of Falkland, named after a career British soldier, Colonel Falkland GE Warren who had settled in the area in 1892. The reason for my visit was to photograph an annual event very popular with those living in the area, named the 94th Annual Falkland Stampede. One of the oldest rodeos in Canada, the stampede began as a community picnic in March of 1919 to celebrate the end of the First World War months earlier. Each year as the event grew, area residents gathered to enjoy local cowboys riding broncos and in 1969 the little stampede was sanctioned as a professional rodeo.

I first became aware of the Stampede while covering forest fires in 2003 just north of the area. I had seen a very weathered sign by a roadside and thought it might be worth looking into as a photo essay. Nine years went by, with me forgetting about the Stampede until the end of the event, until I finally arranged to shoot it.

Montana’s fading cowboy culture

By Jim Urquhart

“It’s been a wild ride. Thank you.”

And with that Renee and Kail Mantle closed a chapter of American history. On Sunday the husband and wife team held the closing ceremonies to end the last of 11 horse drives they have completed with their company, Montana Horses, after racing over 300 horses through the western outpost of Three Forks, Montana.

The duo, a redheaded former theater major preparing for law school and a tanned wrangler who is a former rodeo champion, have been operating Montana Horses off a plot of land north of town since 1995 when they started with just 14 head of horses. Recently the plot of land has grown to 500 acres where they lease hundreds of horses, each one of which Kail and Renee know by name, to dude ranches and trail ride companies throughout the west and in many national parks. The Mantle family has a long tradition of supplying and tending to horses, leasing horses in various western states since 1964.

Last year the pair announced that they plan to begin selling the horses in their herd. According to Renee many of them will be purchased by their leasing clients. While the herd is being reduced they have added about 300 beef cattle to their land. The Mantles also plan to sell their ranch next to the Missouri River and possibly sail the world.