I always get up early, but I got up extra early to make it to the branding up past Murphy, Idaho because these buckaroos don’t burn daylight. I fed the livestock, broke the ice on the water troughs, and grabbed a quick cup of coffee as I headed for the Owyhees.
As I came off the hill into Homedale, the valley had a frothy, white cloud bank floating above it, fog was wafting up and out from the river. It wasn’t until I reached the other side of Marsing that I could see the Owyhees — ice-cold with varied hues of blue and white giving way to snow covering the rocky tops.
I met Chad and Paul at the corrals. There was something peaceful about watching them unload the horses. The clip of hooves on the trailer floor, a small leap to the ground, horse and man’s breath breaking the cold morning air with puffs of steam with each exhale. Other hands started showing up a few at a time, then they came in a steady flow that seemed more like a caravan.
Someone started the branding fire, others unloaded horses while a few more rode out to gather the cattle.
Someone shouted, “Fire’s Ready”
…and two-person teams started roping and bringing in the calves. Beller’n like hell, calves were vaccinated, castrated, and branded all in a rhythmic flow down the human assembly line. Smoke still billowing from their sides they scrambled up bawling for their mothers — then someone hollerd, “we’re ready,” the signal for the next team to come in.
Some horses are not used to people because they live a solitary life working out on the range. Other horses were used to people but didn’t like the branding smoke, and finally someone got dumped. None of this slows down the operation. It’s part of the cowboy life —you just brush off and get back up on your horse.
A Dutch oven filled with chili was slow cooked on the branding fire, the dented tailgate of a truck served as a table, and coolers appeared as food was pulled from other trucks as everyone chipped in. Homemade ice cream and cupcakes were a special treat not the usual fare at a branding lunch.
The branding continued, but I had to get back home to more ranch chores.
About the Author:
Andrea Scott, also known as “Ruby,” is an Idaho native who grew up on a large cattle ranch. The ranching tradition in her family dates back to the 1800s.
She is known as the “Cowboy’s Photographer” because she does not pose or recreate scenes, but captures them naturally as they appear. Andrea feels blessed by her friendships with the people who keep the western tradition alive and is honored to be able to capture this lifestyle in timeless images.