Updated: May 26, 2021
Over nine days we gathered, branded, vaccinated and worked a little more than 1,000 calves spread out over 40,000 acres in four different ranch locations. There are scientist today that will tell you certain behaviors, mannerisms and memories are inherited upon the strands of DNA.
As I watched 12 cowboys and one cowgirl unload their horses and ride out at sunrise, it was almost as if you could see those inherited memories riding alongside them in the ghostly form of their ancestors. I am quite sure those ancestors were there in spirit and in their hearts.
As "closed off" as cowboys can be sometimes about issues of the heart, there was no denying that day what was truly in their hearts. The pride of a 100 years was written all over Tham and that prized possession of a ranch horse they rode.
It was almost like music in a melodic sort of way. I almost hear those ghostly rhythms as I watched their movements. There is just something about branding calves in the springtime, the way it's been done for decades that is just beautiful.
I asked Todd Beedy of 3B Cattle Company about the fact that few words were spoken between the men, and they all just seemed to just be so automatic in that melodic sort of way. In true cowboys form, he attributed it to the fact they had worked together for so long.
They all just knew what the other was thinking or doing. I believe he is right to an extent, but I also believe the DNA that came together to form the cowboy heart is undeniably stronger in so many ways. They just beat differently, stronger, freer, and it's unlike anything I've ever experienced. I also believe that same heart felt freedom has always fascinated the rest of the free world. I think they may also be the last of the truly free.
We left the branding pens at "Turtle Hole" a week ago and continued on to one of my favorite places the old Echolls Ranch. As Todd Beedy of 3B Cattle Company explained last week, this all takes an enormous amount of thought and planning to expedite, down to whom you are going to place where on the drive, and what horse they are riding that day.
There is so much to this because one wrong move or one guy out of place can completely wreck the whole drive, resulting in some of the calves not coming to the pens to receive vaccinations. It all works and flows because these cowboys have rules. Rules, however, is probably not a strong enough word. This is law and we do not break the law at a branding. These rules have been the same and passed down from one generation to the next for hundreds of years. They are not changed or altered to suit different situations or times. They are mostly rooted in common courtesy and respect. I found it funny when Beedy told me a story about a roper who wanted to come branding.
After it was over, he never came back as he told them they just had too many rules. The men are very respectful; they stay in their specific place and do their specific jobs.
It works so much like a well-oiled machine that they can in fact work 100 calves in less than an hour. As the men again rode out, the lead or head cowboy strategically drops each horse and rider off in different locations along the perimeter of these large brush covered ranches. The men rarely can see one another during the drive, yet somehow they all end up at the same place at the same time with all the cattle. It really is something to see. Beedy also explained branding in this part of country has been done this way for hundreds of years.
"If I couldn't do it this way, I just would't do it," he said. Once all the cows and calves are rounded up they are herded to the working pens where the calves are briefly sorted from their moms, while the receive vaccinations and a brand.
It is important to permanently mark cattle with a brand because in this kind of country they can stray and get lost, or worse, stolen, Retrieving stolen cattle is very hard without that permanent mark.
It's becoming quite clear, as I've been watching Todd Beedy, he is morphing into a more relaxed role, as he was turning the helm of it all over to his son Payte. Payte was now making a large amount of the decisions.
It was very heart warming and interesting to watch Todd's faces the cowboys and cows showed up, There was no denying the worry that the drive would go well for Payte. If you think cowboys are tough, watch them as they transform as the next generation takes the helm.
Behind that rough rogue exterior there is a heart of gold. If you don't believe me just come to a branding when there are young cowboys around. We had three little cowboys show up bright and early one morning, eyes lit up with excitement, rearing to go. Bowen Beedy age five, Ryker Burson, age six, and Kreese Burson, age four.
They had their equipment just like the big cowboys, leggings, hats, boots, spurs, ropes, horses, and pocketknives. Kreese the younger and most mischievous, proudly showed me his two prize pocketknives but was quickly scolded by Ryker, the eldest, Kreese, who immediately turned that ornery cowboy attention to my ponytail, grabbed a hold of it and explained to me he was going to "cut my pigtail off."
It was as if I'd stepped into that movie John Wayne and "The Cowboys." The little ornery rascals and their horses got to help with a small drive at the end. Every cowboy had a wary eye on all three of the young boys. One ornery cow tried to make a run for it. Todd and his horse made a quick maneuver and stopped the run away cow, as did young Bowen's horse. The horse got out from under Bowen, and he went to the ground. Todd got off his horse and made sure Bowen was okay.
"There is a bigger lesson here, there is no quitting in the branding pens, or life," Todd explained, "If either knocks you down, you got learn to get back up and or get back on. You gotta finish the job." They are tough on themselves and each other, as well as the young boys; however, when the opportunity presented itself in the form of a smaller calf every single one of those cowboys slowed their roll to teach the three boys the art of flanking.
During the course of this endeavor, I have laughed and been in awe, but mostly I kept thinking if everyone treated each other like these cowboys treat one another we wouldn't have the problems we have in this world.
The old bulls or veterans, were Cam Forbes, Phillip Reynolds, Don Pickle, Todd Reagan, Todd Beedy, Steven Rothel, and my own Ty Williams, also known as Woodrow. Every move they and their horses make is like one fluid line of almost poetry.
They never look like they are in a hurry, and everything looks effortless. With a gentle knowing smile on their faces it is there where the experience lies. They are the epitome of "work smarter not harder"
They are so good at handling these cattle there are times you almost don't notice them. However, I can tell you they are never out of place, and they never lose even one calf on the drive. It is in them that the knowledge of the past lies; they are the passers of the torch.
The yearlings, Payte Beedy, Yance Forbes, Jace Pfenninger, Zack Burson, though they don' t move with quite the ease and fluidity that comes with age., they are taking the helm and doing a fine job of it. Every now and then they look back to the seasoned eyes that are watching over them.
However, they know what to do and how to do it, but still they look back. Not necessarily for guidance or approval, I think it has more to do with honor and respect, a paying homage if you will. They understand everything the "old bull" has taught them now lies within them. It's up to them to carry on what has been handed down to them by their ancestors. You can see it in their faces the pride they have, they are now the present bearer of the torch.
The weanlings, Jayde Smith and Rye Reynolds, are quick as a cat and as spry as one, too. They are quick and deadly accurate with that rope. They move almost as if their bones are made of rubber. You watch them and wonder if you ever moved like that, and you can't help but smile every time you look at them. They are the next in line to bear the torch.
The calves are Bowen Beedy, Ryker Burson and Kreese Burson. There is nowhere on earth those little fellas would rather be than the branding.
They are in hog heaven, and I feel for their mothers when they are not at the branding. Every watchful eye is on them, an it's everyone's job to make sure they learn. They are the future bearers of the torch. In some strange cryptic cowboy way, it balances itself out.
I don't know of any other large undertaking other than a branding where a group this diverse in age could come together in such harmony. There is a code and they live by it. Rules about things you do not ever do at a branding and things you can do. I don't know that I've ever seen these rules written down.
They would rather die I think than ride out of place, or show disrespect of any kind. For instance, after a cowboy is asked to drag, when their time is over they always thank the cowboy's branding they are at who asked them to drag, as it is a huge honor when you are asked to get your horse.
They are a fun loving bunch, which live to chide each other. It's all done and said in good fun and with respect.I don't care how old they actually are, when a cowboy comes to a branding he somehow reverts back in time to his younger years, his step is a little lighter, his cheeks are rosier, and his smile becomes boyish again.
One of the older cowboys caught a big calf. I'm not sure what happened after a bit of a struggle, the rope slipped away from him.
Jayde picked the older cowboys rope up off the ground, recoiled it, and handed it back up to him, and jokingly said, "Here you tiger, go get you another one."
We all got a real good chuckle out of that because those younger cowboys are just waiting their turn to actually be one of their life long heroes.
We ended up camping for two nights along the breezy cool banks of the Pease River. The last night we sat by the campfire while Jayce and Jayde played the guitar and sang. We laughed, lived, told stories. It was a pure authenticity of the heart.
As the last calf was roped and drug to the fire Stephen looked at Ty and said, "That's it, the whole thing is history now." As Ty answered and they looked at one another, and nodded, even I understood that unspoken language of history, respect, and honor that exists in the heart of the cowboy.
Nikolyn Photos by Sarah Pfenninger and Nikolyn