Photographer Michael Crouser spent almost 10 years capturing the lives and livelihood of NW Colorado ranchers, but his book Mountain Ranch echoes the lives of cowboys in every other western state, including Texas; a tough life in a world that is shrinking; an affection for land and animals that mark the western way.
Although I am clearly a city girl, I have long had an admiration for the people of the land, those who steadfastly hold on in spite of all of the modern changes and economic challenges; the corporate farming and encroaching cities. The handicaps include tax laws that burden the land passed between generations and the dispersion of families as the young head to the cities.
But Crouser pointed out in an interview on PBS’ “Here and Now” that he was intrigued, “not by the ways their lives are changing but by the way they have stayed the same.” He was “most interested in the traditional elements of these traditional lives . . . what they call ‘cowboying.’”
Western and wild life writer Gretel Ehrlich says in her introduction: “The ranches where Michael Crouser so affectionately captures these scenes tell a story of staying power, of joy in the beauty of the world, of gratitude for the working animals—the dogs and the horses—of midwifery and husbandry, of seeing the seasons through. . . . It is a pleasure to be brought into this out-of-the-way part of the world with such understated passion.”
I still do not know how these ranchers survive, what draws them to this way of life, but I am moved by their grit and passion. I see it every week in the life of my cousin on her 15 acres in Hempstead; I saw it in the lives of the cowboys I interviewed for the Hempstead paper a couple years back; I saw it in the lives of the ranchers I studied on Davis Mountain when I was writing WRANGLE.
There is a universal spirit among all of these people and the reason that they stay on the land: a love of the animals and the land’s harvest; a respect for the seasons; a tenacity to get up early, work past dark, repeat each day. And there’s faith. One old rancher told me that you have to believe in something; had to put your trust in God because the challenge was too much otherwise.
I look forward to meeting Michael Crouser’s cowboys but expect to find the same spirit and toughness I see here in Texas. Mountain Ranch was published by the University of Texas Press and is available on Amazon and through other booksellers.
— Jonnie Martin