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.