Sweat And Sagebrush
Beaverhead County is the largest county in Montana, yet there are more cows than people populating this wild and sparse place. Roughly the size of Connecticut, the county is comprised of rugged snow capped mountains and the scars of dirt roads connecting rolling valleys of sagebrush and pasture land. Ranching has been the mainstay of commerce and economy here since the 1800s and transgenerational ranching families continue to work cattle on the land today, still utilizing some of the age-old traditions handed down over the centuries. The remnants of the American West are still found here in the Big Hole, Centennial, Grasshopper and Horse Prairie valleys. Although highly romanticized and often imitated, the lives and work of cattle ranchers is anything but glamorous. Long days of working outside in all weather, few if any days “off” and the endless physical labor for little financial return is a way of life that most folks couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to manage. The curated culture of the “American West” has often left out the toil, the labor, the passion and the investment that a rancher puts into their work. Their entire livelihood is dependent on the health of their cattle, the price of resources and of their product in the market and most of all, mother nature. Their timeless profession has been altered by technology, population needs, a changing landscape and market and of course, younger generations. In a fast paced world economy, traditions out here in Beaverhead County still hang on and often it feels as if time has stopped. Out here, there is work, family, community, weather and cows. Ranchers are some of the most multifaceted and resourceful people. They’ve got more knowledge of the land and animals than most. Living so remotely requires them to obtain a multitude of skills . Living so close to their own survival, they must maintain all of their own equipment, buildings, and themselves. The intense tapestry of their lives is so interwoven with time, tradition, pride, craftsmanship, passion and extremely hard work. The hot coals of an age-old lifestyle are still burning in the hearth of American culture, but as time moves on, the feeling that ranching will become more and more sparse seems to feel more real.