Fight for them. For THEY are your home.
The First Warrior looked out upon the land that was his home. He saw the hills, and the stars and he was happy. For giving him his home, the First Warrior told the Great Spirit that he would fight his fights in his honor. The Great Spirit said, “No. Do not fight for me. Fight for your tribe. Fight for the family born to you. Fight for the brothers that you find. Fight for them. For THEY are your home.1
Open any U.S. history book and open it to a map depicting the legendary ‘Dust Bowl’ of the 1930s and find the red circle that marks the ‘heart’. If you run your finger around the perimeter of the heart, you will, at one point, find yourself pointing to a small town named Clayton, New Mexico. Clayton is a nice town and in its center you will find the historic Hotel Eklund, famous for the fact that it is where the infamous Thomas ‘Black Jack’ Ketchum met his end, at the end of a rope, in 1901.The sound of spurs on hardwood is still a common sound as you grab a little lunch.
If you do as I did and travel a little this way and a little that way, you might come upon an area that is populated by a series of sturdy corrals, a few aging out-buildings and several scattered but welcome shade trees. Alongside the corrals are parked three or four pickups each connected to, now empty, horse trailers.
I am here as a guest of the family who owns this land and was brought here by a great man who had agreed to take me places where I could capture some of the life of the area’s beef industry. I set up to capture a roundup of this year’s calves. I was going to take pictures of cowboys (and girls) work the calves to get them ready for their time on the range. What I actually experienced was something different or at least MORE. What I was witnessing caught me by surprise at first but I later realized that the surprise was actually memories. The surprise was a gentle pull out of the world into a place far more comfortable, safe and grounded. The ‘voices’ I was hearing were the voices of family, or as the quote above refers, I was listening to the voices of HOME.
When we arrived, the family (and friends) were already out in the pasture (pastures here are measured in sections rather than acres). A small group was riding the outer areas and bringing in the less social cows (this is where I would be if I was a cow) while the rest were in small groups, talking and laughing on horseback while holding the main herd in place. I was taking up position, camouflaged as a post, so I wouldn’t spook anything. This particular post was keeping one eye on the ground because my guide had warned me, “We have these little prairie rattlers… they are kind of mean and very quiet.”
The out-riders eventually came in with my-kind of cows and the whole gang slowly guided the entire herd through a gate and into a corral. I was told twice that day that there are definitely faster ways to do this work but this is what we do. This is family time. This is fun. With all the cattle in the corral, several horsemen moved the cattle around while several others worked gates in order to separate the calves from the cows. As you can imagine, this wasn’t a very popular activity with either the cow or the calves and it got pretty noisy.
In the main corral, branding irons were heated up and two teams were formed to do the work the same way it had been done for generations. Experienced hands got things started and then other younger hands were cycled in so they could learn the time honored skills. Two riders would rope the hind legs of a calf and drag them to one of the two waiting teams. Two or three men would hold the calf down while two of the younger members of the family would come in to vaccinate and brand each calf. It looked like hard work but the entire morning was filled with smiles and laughter. Instruction was given, encouragement was freely handed out and I even witnessed a couple pretty nice wrestling takedowns amongst the younger crowd.
This is HOME. This is family as it should be. Family, friends, neighbors, they were all there. All were involved in the roundup and then everyone had their job. The youngest took up their posts on the roofs of the surrounding out-buildings to watch and learn. The next oldest ran the branding irons and syringes and the biggest kids (they all seemed young that day) roped and wrestled the calves. It is getting harder and less common, in this world we’ve built, for generations of families to be able to work together in a common goal. Family ranches and farms are places where this can often still exist. The rest of us may just need to step it up a bit and look for creative ways to keep ‘FAMILY’ and ‘HOME’ as the foundation of our daily lives.
There is something about work, laughter and manure laden dust that brings one back to what is important. Grateful.
1 This may have originated somewhere else but I heard it quite eloquently spoken by Lou Diamond Philips in an episode of ‘Longmire’. I don’t watch much TV but I do like this series.
Those are fabulous images! Well written documentary too!
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