Natalie Bright: The Legacy of Ranching Traditions

We’re very thrilled to have author and rancher Natalie Bright visit and tell us of her observations about the cowboys of yesterday and today. There’s little difference it seems. She has a new cookbook out full of recipes they serve to the men on the Sanford Ranch. Nobody appreciates good food like cowboys! She’s also giving away a copy.

Thank you all for having me. It’s great to be back. Over a year and a half of research went into my most recent book about the history of the cattle driving era and the food of the chuck wagon. As I searched through countless archived images, I realized that the work cowboys did over 150 years ago continues today. My photos of the Sanford Ranch cowboys are almost identical. The traditions established then are still practiced.

In the early days, fences did not block the route from pastures to the railheads north. Neighboring outfits drove their combined herds to central locations and the trail drives usually consisted of thousands of head. Livestock was rounded up in early spring and branded to establish ownership. Charles Goodnight is credited as inventor of the chuck wagon used to feed cowboys during the months long drive to market.

On the Sanford Ranch we hold spring branding and the tradition of feeding the branding crews continues. These crews consist of seasonal dayworkers, skilled cowboys who travel from ranch to ranch providing extra labor during the busy times of spring and fall workings. A rope, a saddle, and a good ‘cowey’ horse remain the primary tools of the trade. Some ranches treat the cowboys at a local café, while others utilize an SUV or cook trailer to carry food to the pasture. We have an actual cookhouse on our ranch, and we employ a cook who relies on friends and volunteers who enjoy being a part of branding every year. Here are some pictures I took of our cookhouse and branding season.


After breakfast, everyone is saddled and ready to go before first light. Instead of the grit and grime of a trail drive over thousands of miles, horses and riders are transported by pickup truck and trailer. The Ranch foreman makes assignments and explains the route, just as the trail boss did long ago.

A cow’s way of thinking hasn’t changed much in 150 years, and the necessary work of a cowboy remains. The most efficient positioning of driving a herd of cattle is still in practice today. The point man rides in front of the few older cows who naturally become leaders, flankers are on either side and the drag riders follow behind in ‘the dust of the drag’, as it’s called.

Ownership of livestock and land was respected and held in high esteem then as it is now. Our pastures are large, several sections in size (a section equals 640 acres) and the fence line neighbor is notified when we gather. If we have any of their strays, then they can pick them up or we deliver them back home.

I’m the photographer on the ranch and you’ll see me with a camera when I’m out. I love this ranch life and the way I see it I’m recording history and trying to make sure it doesn’t get lost.

My newest book, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’, is classified as cookbook but it contains so much more. Along with history and photos, the book includes over 100 recipes from authentic cow camp meals to modern recipes from our own cookhouse. You don’t need a fire pit or a chuck wagon. You can prepare these dishes in your own kitchen…and you can bet they’re all cowboy approved. (Click on the cover to go to Amazon.)

In my new western romance series, THE WILD COW RANCH, my co-author Denise and I include some of these long-held traditions of cattle ranching as well as the small-town sense of community and faith. Elements that are very much alive today. (Click on the picture and it’ll take you to Amazon.)

What interests you the most about the American cowboy and the cattle ranching legacy?

For a chance to win a FREE copy of my cookbook, KEEP ‘EM FULL AND KEEP ‘EM ROLLIN’, please leave a comment below. And if you enjoy pictures of cows and the Texas sky, follow me on Instagram @natsgrams #sanfordranch and Pinterest.


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58 thoughts on “Natalie Bright: The Legacy of Ranching Traditions”

  1. I was and am always amazed by Cowboys. Their jobs are hard and their days are long and yet they always come back for more. As hard as it is, they love their jobs and they do them well. Blazing hot or freezing cold, they don’t complain, they just do their jobs.

    • That is so true, Melanie. Cowboys love spending their days on a horse, and are always ready and willing to do what needs to be done. Working with livestock is so unpredictable. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I recently visited the Grant-Kohrs ranch in Montana, now a historical site and was amazed (again) about the life of a cowboy and the ranch. I grew up in NV and grew up around many cowboys. My mom was the cook for them many times.

  3. I’m just fascinated with the whole experience. There’s nothing really like it around here because the operations are much smaller.

    Your cookhouse is amazing!


    • Thanks! We love that cookhouse. Can you believe we used to feed about 40-50 people in a very small, one person kitchen? It’s been nice to have the room to spread out. We’ve also had three weddings in that building since it was built about five years ago.

  4. I would be absolutely thrilled to win a copy of your cookbook/history book. As a history teacher, I love this type of research and appreciate the time involved, and I have a special interest in the cowboy era. I would treasure such a book.

    • Hello, Janice. Honestly, I love the research a tad bit more than I like the writing. Took me one and half years to research this because the information had to be condensed to make room for the recipes, but it was a fun project. Good luck and thanks for commenting.

  5. So cool Natalie – this is big in our house, because my husband’s grandfather was a cook on the Goodnight-Loving trail! They still have his chuck box!

    • Oh, wow! I would love to see that chuck box. What a treasured family heirloom. It’s amazing what those men accomplished in those days. Thanks for the comment, Laura.

  6. The Chisholm Trail coming out of Texas and ending at the rail head in Abilene, Kansas captured my heart. Although the trail was established after the Civil War and rain until 1871, the legacy it left included the huge cattle ranches in that area and those infamous cowboys with their chiseled good looks, denim jeans and die-hard work ethics. What girl wouldn’t fall in love with men like?.

    • So true! Those men were such hard workers. I’m looking forward to learning more about the Chisholm Trail in October when I’ll be in Kingfisher OK for a chuck wagon cookoff at the museum there. It must have been a fascinating time to live. Thanks for commenting and following P&P.

    • So true, Julie. I don’t think they considered the life or death situation at the time. They had a job to do and they did it.

  7. This was very cool information – checked and have most of this series in my huge TBR pile – thanks for the information and wonderful pictures!

  8. There are not many cowboys around where I live. So I am amaze at how hard they work to keep things going. I guess I live in race horse country but really not around those either. Ranching has to be hard work and it takes tough man to hold up to it. Seems like they always come back for more.

    • Yes, they love what they do. That’s for certain. It’s never dull because we have a mix of unpredictable livestock, willful horses, crazy Texas weather, and all the other things that can happen thrown into the mix. Thanks for commenting!

  9. Hello Natalie! I don’t know if you remember meeting me in Lubbock recently!!! I was with Linda Broday at the Heritage Ranch Museum while you were at the book signing for your cookbook. It was lovely to meet you! Congrats on your new cookbook!

    • I do remember you! Hello, and thanks for commenting. I hope you had fun, although I remember how hot it was. Hopefully we’ll run into each other again sometime.

  10. I think cowboy’s work was very hard with riding a horse all day and all the other strenuous work that had to be done. I’m sure the cook was one of the most respected fellows. It’s amazing how they fed such a crew and cooked it out in the open. I’m very curious about all the food they were able to cook and would love to read the recipes in your book.

    • Hi, Connie. The food planning and preparation is very interesting considering ‘cookie’ had to stock his mule-powered kitchen with enough provisions to last about a month. The staples were filing; sourdough bread, pinto beans, and beef kept rolled in a tarp at the bottom of the wagon. On some days, that might be the only thing he served. It was an interesting lifestyle for sure. Thanks for commenting!

  11. Great photos! It’s interesting to see that some of the methods and traditions continue in ranching. I grew up in the country but not on a ranch or farm. My husband’s family had a small horse training ranch and farm so I got to see a little of the activity on a small scale and it fascinated me. What a challenge it must have been to feed the cowboys from a wagon. Thanks for the interesting post and giveaway.

  12. Cowboys are admirable for their strength of character, their ethics and their hardworking principles and values. The photos were wonderful. Thanks for your fascinating post.

    • Hello Anne. It is fascinating how the cowboy lifestyle continues to hold such a fascination for everyone. Thanks for following P&P.

  13. I think what appeals to a lot of us is working outdoors in open spaces with animals even though they can be very ornery sometimes. There is always that last cow that refuses to go through the gate! And of course who doesn’t like the idea of riding horses through beautiful scenery.

    Love the picture of the calf in the culvert.

    • That calf pic is one of my all-time favorites and it was my husband who actually pointed it out. We were on the 4-wheeler and I had my camera pointed at a huge cottonwood. My hubby says, “look over there.” Can’t believe the calf stood still long enough for me to capture it. Thanks for commenting!

  14. Welcome back, Natalie! We’re so happy to have you. I just love all your pictures and the genuine love for the land that comes through your words. It’s something you can’t fake. You feel deeply about your role in preserving this way of life. I always love going out to the ranch to visit. There’s something magical about it. And that cookbook is amazing! You included so much history and I’ll use it for a research book. Make yourself at home and enjoy your stay here at P&P. Love you dearly.

    • Hello sweet friend! Thanks so much for your comments. You know I’ve been a fan of P&P blog for as long as you’ve been here. I love the history of the American West and its readers like the followers right here on P&P that keep it alive and allow us to do what we love; write and research about all things western. Happy Friday, and have a great weekend!

  15. I was captivated with this interesting and beautiful ode to cowboys and their lives. They are tough and real men who inspire me.

    • You said the magic word, Pearl — tough! It is amazing what these men can do, and cowgirls too. Every bump and bruise is one more story added to their long list of tales. Thanks for commenting!

  16. Cowboys are my heroes. The exude such important values and are brave and tough. Men who understand life and are wiling to put up with adversity.

    • What a great comment! You are so right. Believe it or not, there remain men today who adhered to the same code of the west. Cowboy skills are very much used and just as important. There’s nothing like a competent cowboy on a smart horse when you need one. Thanks for following P&P!

  17. Hi Nat, glad to see you back. I love love your blog. Thanks for being a guest blogger. I love the points you made comparing today and yesterday. Since I’ve been out to your ranch, I know how hard it is to keep it up and going and you all have done so much with it since you bought “one of the oldest ranches” around. I love your books. Keep on keeping on with them. You have so much to offer. I agree with Linda … there is truly something magical about your ranch. It’s like stepping back into history, especially seeing your dug out that is still there. I’ve had the opportunity to spend the weekend and help out on an other long time ranch here, but no comparison to yours. Please enjoy your stay a P&P and look forward to this pandemic to get over, so we can get back to getting together. Miss and love you, dear friend. P

  18. I loved your pictures you included in this post. I appreciate the Cowboy heart of working the land, treating livestock with respect and endearment, the love of coffee and biscuits, and their commitment to family and neighbors. Cowboys notice the sun, moon, and stars. They marvel at God’s creation. They are happy with hard tack and beans. Your cookbook and historical comments and pictures I am sure are awesome. Thank you for sharing your blog with us today! So enjoyed reading it!

  19. I think cowboys are very hard workers, their day begins very early and they stay busy all day , I think it is a 24/7 job! Thank you for sharing your pictures, they are awesome! Cowboys get to be out in the open and they get to enjoy all of God’s country. Thank you for the chance. Have a great weekend and stay safe.

  20. I’m fascinated by all the hard work involved with being a cowboy, and how there are still cowboys around today. I think its wonderful you’re documenting both what you do now and remembering the historical side of it so its not forgotten.

    • Hi, Megan; Yes, that is the best fun for me. While everyone else is working, I get to take their pictures. Thanks for following P&P,.

  21. I appreciate your descriptions and pictures above as well as how the legacy of community and faith has continued thru the years. I can see the same thing in the farming community around me here in the Heartland. Makes my heart smile and restores my faith in humanity, it’s not all doom and gloom like we hear on the news.

    Would love to receive your cookbook. Cooking is a passion of mine, not enough for culinary school like my niece, but I love to cook and share with others.

    • Hello Kathy; You have niece in culinary school? That’s very cool. I have a huge collection of cookbooks, not so much time to spend cooking but I love reading through them. Thanks for commenting.

  22. I live in Texas and we own 6 longhorns, 3 donkeys and a Paint and it is hard work. Keeping the land fenced and cleared so you don’t have to buy hay all the time. I am ready to retire and sell so that I can kick back and read, garden and tend to chickens. Great article.

    • Hi Carolyn. Thanks for commenting. You do have a busy outfit! Our neighbor has two longhorns. They are the most beautiful creatures.

  23. I grew up watching westerns and listening to country music. I just love the whole lifestyle. I still love westerns, both books and movies, the music (though I admit the older music!) and still the lifestyle.

    • Isn’t it amazing how the western lifestyle still hold much fascination? I guess it’s the thought of wide open spaces and freedom to live how you want. That attitude has not changed out here, LOL. Thanks for commenting, Trudy!

  24. Great post, Natalie! My cousins have a huge ranch in Eastern Oregon, but raise wheat not cows. Lots of mouths to feed at harvest time so some similarities. A lot of folks don’ realize how much is still done the good old fashioned way on a cattle ranch.

    • Thanks, Kit! Glad you enjoyed my blog. I can’t even imagine how beautiful that wheat farm must be in Oregon. My grandfather grew cotton, so I like writing about farmers too. This thing about cattle work is the best way to handle cows was determined long ago by the Vaqueros, and its more like the old saying, don’t fix it if it ain’t broke. Have a great weekend and thanks for commenting.

  25. I am amazed at the hard life it is to be a cowboy. What you see in movies and in some books show it with so much glamour. The work is hard, lonely, hot and tough. Thank you so much for sharing. God bless you.

    • Hello and thanks for commenting. Yes, real ranch life is often times far removed from the Hollywood version, but it’s still the stuff of great movies. Thanks for following P&P!

  26. Natalie! I really enjoyed your pictures and would love, love, love, that western cowboy style cooking cookbook of yours! Nothing better than good old country cooking!! I grew up on a farm, and my grandparents had a LOT of cattle. We had a lot less cattle than they did, but our freezer was always full of fresh beef. My granddaddy had work days on his ranch, even though he farmed, those cattle had to be taken care of, too. So, he’d have all 5 of his grown sons and a few nephews come out when it was branding time, or time to do some other things that we ladies don’t like to talk a lot about! Haha! Then, they’d have a big cook out for all who’d helped plus their families who came and cooked, or played, like I did when I was just little. Granddaddy died when I was just ten. There was no more cattle ranching. It was so traumatic for my little grandmama…but life certainly doesn’t stop for any man, no matter how great a man he was. Thank you so much for sharing with us today on P&P!

  27. Cowboy life and ranch life appeal to me partly because of the wide open spaces. I realize it sounds much more romantic and free than it really is, but being as close to the land as is necessary satisfies the spirit. It is hard and at time unpredictable work with nature fighting you many steps of the way. There is a freedom riding the range that isn’t found in other animal husbandry jobs like dairy farming. They require your attention pretty much all day everyday. Who wouldn’t rather be out riding than mucking the dairy barn. One thing that is strong in most cowboys his their love and respect for the land. They know they need to be good stewards of the land for their livelihood and the future.

    I love cookbooks like the one you have put out. Even if I am not actively cooking, I can sit and read, and enjoy the pictures.

  28. hello Patricia. You summed up the lifestyle perfectly, although there is the not so fun work too like fixing miles of barbed wire fence and breaking ice in the winter. The guys are not fans of painting fence either, so thats my job.


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