A few days later I drove to Ft Collins, Colorado (about 1 hour away) to do a little exploring and shopping.
Ft Collins is a great town, home of Colorado State University, with a beautiful historic downtown full of great boutique stores.
I was roaming around in one store and two ladies were staring at me and one started pointing. I looked at her, then looked behind me thinking she was pointing at someone else. She started to get busier with that pointing finger and finally I heard her say “photographer”. I’m thinking, who is this woman and how would anyone in Ft Collins CO know who I was?” She said “You’re the photographer from the branding last week-end”. I started laughing and realized her face did look familiar but when I met her she had a cast on her hand so I was confused. After we stood there talking for a minute, she said, “I’m Debie and this is my daughter Stacy. I was talkingto you about our branding this coming this week-end.”
Holy cow, are you kidding me? What are the chances of this happening? Here we are an hour away from Cheyenne in a tiny store and she recognizes me. Don’t ever tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. He continues to amaze me by putting me in places where I meet the most awesome people who I now consider friends.
She told me they were doing the branding on the week-end and I was welcome to come out and shoot. Are you kidding me, yes I would.
Stacy Broda (Mark & Debbie Childs’ daughter) gave me her card so I could get directions and time. I had mentioned that I love to shoot abandoned places and she offered to take me on a tour of their ranch that has some buildings from the homestead days. Ok, now my excitement level is reaching the bursting point. We made a date for Friday, the day before the branding.
Stacy has a degree in Agriculture and is the state advisor for the Wyoming FFA. She is the 5th generation rancher on the Child Ranch and is very active in educating people like me about ranch life and the business end of ranching. I had a lot to learn too.
I arrived at the ranch and we got into one of the farm trucks and off we went. Stacy first showed me the one room school circa 1910 that was part of their ranch. They had recently put some red siding on the outside because it was deteriorating and they wanted to try to preserve it as best as they could. However, the inside (photos below) was original and I loved it. We then went to another homestead (photo of the house with the root cellar). In this small, probably 12’ X 10’ room with a maybe 10 X 8 lean to addition, house lived a family of 6. Hard to imagine that many people in a small space but that was life. The last stop was the a homestead (photo of just an entry way to a root cellar) which is no longer there but it seems there is a backstory about moonshine being involved. All of these homesteads were acquired over the years and became what is now the Child Ranch.
As we finished driving around the ranch, I had the pleasure of meeting Wayne Child, the father of Mark. He was in his shop and as I walked through the door and was introduced to him, well I fell in love! We chatted and I asked a few questions and then asked if I could take his photo. No posing, just he and I talking and every once in a while I would take a photo. I was looking into the eyes and face of history. So much character, hard work, dedication and love was in that face that I was privileged to be sitting in front of. Stacy and her granddad, two working ranchers 3rd and 5th generations still working together, it was heart warming to be sitting there with them. Then in walks in the 4th generation, Mark, who was busy getting ready for the big branding the next day. This would be the first time in that they were going to do this type of branding.
Saturday I was up early and out to the ranch. Many of the same cowboys were there from the previous weekend. Most came over and spoke to me, recognizing me from the Berry Ranch. I laughed and told them I was just like a bad penny, you never knew where I would show up.
The cowboys split up and some went to get the first group of cows and calves and the others went to get the second group ready. I was better prepared this time with what to expect. It’s quite a sight to see hundreds of cows with the cowboys coming over a hill headed right at you.
There was the same type of controlled chaos that entails the branding, inoculation and castrating that went on from my first experience at the Berry Ranch. I don’t think I mentioned before but the women are in charge of inoculations.
So here I stand, a woman, 1600 miles from home basking in all that is pure Americana. At one point I am in awe as I realize I am seeing the results of what families of those original homesteaders must have dreamed was possible. These families have allowed me to be a part of the very fabric and history of the western way of life. Stacy’s children will be the 6th generation of ranchers. American Housing Survey tells us that most families only live in one place for 13 years. Here is a family that is still living in the same place for over 100 years. I was lucky enough to be with not one but two families that have been ranching for over 100 years. Both farms have been written about in the “Wyoming Centennial Farm and Ranch” year book. If you are interested in reading about this farm, I will be happy to send you the information.
The day ended with a big dinner that Debie and Stacy prepared, beef brisket, salads, beans, and homemade bread, it was delicious. I stayed this time because I regretted not staying at the Berry Ranch. It was great watching them unwind and enjoy that meal together and discuss how the day went. I talked to Mark a little about the day because their old way of branding (using a branding table) takes about 3 days and maybe 8 men. This way (roping) took about 50 people and a day. I think he was pleased and it looks like they may do it this way again next year.
I had an awesome day and when it was all over, they asked if I would take a few photos of the entire family together, except for the grandmother – she hates to have her photo taken, (which I totally understand).
As I drove off I thanked God for giving me these two week-ends of being with some amazing families. I will never forget my time with the Child family, especially Wayne, who stole my heart.
I thank them for letting me be a part of their lives, if only for a couple of days, I will never forget their hospitality and our new friendship.
So as you’re out traveling about remember to always be open to those little moments, those unexpected moments when you feel that urge to speak to someone or ask them something about where you are, because you might be one sentence away from a the best adventure of your life.