Taylor Sheridan — former C&I cover guy and Yellowstone mastermind — writes about cowboying in new photography book American Cowboys.
Earlier this year, C&I featured American Cowboys— a photography book by Anouk Krantz that tells the stories of modern day American Cowboys through candid black-and-white photographs. Along with the visual storytelling is a beautifully-written foreword by writer/director/producer Taylor Sheridan. He sums up the nitty-gritty, around-the-clock lifestyles that cowboys of the past and present endure. After flipping through the book cover to cover (and vicariously living through every word and snapshot), all we've got to say is — long live cowboys!
American Cowboys Foreword Written By Taylor Sheridan
While farming has evolved into a scientific and technological endeavor that would barely be recognizable to the farmer a century ago, the cowboy seems frozen in time. Cowboying is the antithesis of evolution.
Technology can’t coax a timid colt through a creek. It can’t rope a bull bogged in a river. It can’t pull a calf that gets turned in the womb, nor can it breathe life into one’s nostrils when born on a subzero night. These are tasks of the cowboy.
To call it a job is inaccurate. Jobs come with regulated hours and a clearly defined description of duties. The cowboy’s job changes daily and ends when it’s over. Cowboys must be comfortable in solitude and capable of working in large groups. They must be extremely proficient at their job because at some point a cow’s life, a horse’s life, or the life of another cowboy will depend on it.
One should also flush any stereotypes of the cowboy from their mind. Cowboy is a gender-neutral term and knows no race or ethnicity. Cowboys, like horses and cattle, come in two genders and an assortment of colors. The one color all will share at the end of a long spring gather is dust-covered and sunburned.
If a true meritocracy exists on this planet, it exists on a ranch. You will be judged, for certain. From the moment you arrive on the ranch until the moment you leave. You will be judged for your skill. You will be judged for your courage. You will be judged for your humility. You will be judged for your eagerness to open the gate or ride drag or flank, and you will be judged for your hesitance to asking for your chance to drag, even though roping is the reason you were hired onto the branding in the first place.
Cowboys will start work before the sun rises and quit only when told. They will work these seemingly endless hours for wages our government considers illegal. And on the weekends, they will likely ride their horses and rope more steers—the very things they were just underpaid for all week. And they’ll do it for free.
Cowboys will break bones, suffer concussions, lose fingers and thumbs, and the notion of doing anything else for a living will never enter their minds.
Cowboys will start work before the sun rises and quit only when told.
Cowboys do not look at their profession as a career: it is a lifestyle that coincidentally pays. It is self-reliance elevated to an art.
It is wordless poetry.
It is theater without audience.
It is symphony without strings.
I gathered cattle on the Four Sixes one year, and became lost in the coulees and canyons along the Wichita River. Keeping the sun to my right held me in generally the right direction. I would ride up from the canyon where I could and call out in the stark “YEAW” that cowboys scream to keep the line, then back in the canyon I would go.
Cowboys do not look at their profession as a career: it is a lifestyle that coincidentally pays.
I began finding cattle lumbering in the same direction as me, then heard a distant “yeaw”. I shrieked in return, then pushed the cattle up a steep bank of the Wichita and out onto an arroyo. From this vantage, I could see for fifty miles.
To my left, more fingers of the canyon pointed south toward the open pasture. One by one, cattle spilled onto them then down the steep ravine toward the flat land below. After the cattle came a cowboy, who stopped on the tip of his arroyo, and looked in my direction. To his left, another arroyo and another cowboy. Then another. And another ...
As the sun broke free of the horizon, twenty cowboys sat horseback looking out over cattle stretched to the horizon. The cowboys to my right were silhouetted, but to my left they were bathed in the soft, amber light of dawn. And below us, all of Texas. It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
I can think of no rational explanation that would entice one to seek this way of life. Endure it is likely a better choice of words. You must ride to the tip of an arroyo at sunrise and look out. It’s the only way to know for sure ...
American Cowboys is available on Amazon or Images Publishing.
Photography: (All images) courtesy Anouk Masson Krantz/Images Publishing