Texas in the spring brings to mind the sights, sounds and smells of cattle crossing the grassy plains, cowboys on good horses roping and dragging calves and other cow hands pulling the 6666 branding irons from the fire. We also envision “Cookie” getting supplies from a chuck wagon near the campfire, as coffee is boiling and beef, biscuits and beans are cooking. As the bright blue sky turns to a purple sunset, cattle are bedded down, horses are unsaddled, and cowboys relax on a bedroll as guitar music, cowboy poetry and songs float on the cool evening breeze.
These uniquely American scenes make up the folklore and heritage of the West, and they have filled the imagination of several generations of people from every corner of the globe. They are also the inspiration for many of the paintings and sculptures created by the Cowboy Artists of America. This annual trail ride experience is a unique part of the CAA tradition. One special time each year, the CAs are privileged to have the opportunity to participate with cowboys and ranch owners on some of the most historic and picturesque ranches in the world.
In early May, Anne and John Marion, owners of the famous Burnett 6666 Ranches, graciously hosted the CAA at their Dixon Creek Division in Panhandle, Texas. This was the fifth time the CAs have been invited to one of the several 6666 Ranches throughout the west. Working alongside cowboys who get up every day before sunrise and ride out on great horses to gather, rope and brand cattle – like it has been done for over 100 years – gives these artists a true sense of respect for the way of life these cowboys and ranchers are keeping alive in America today.
One of the most memorable parts of this year’s ride was when the artists helped the cowboys drive the cattle into a small box canyon. Then the boss, Joe Leathers, and one of his long-time cowboys, Boots O’Neil, roped and dragged calves to the fire in an old-fashioned open range branding. In this day and age branding is usually done in a set of corrals.
Some of the CAs opted to sit out the branding and paint the beautiful countryside, with its big bluffs and dry riverbeds dotted with cottonwoods. Several brought their own cowboy teepees and slept out under the stars in the cool night air.
This year, 17 active CAA members attended the trail ride in Texas. Six others were unable to attend due to illness or family obligations. One Emeritus member, Grant Speed drove down from Utah, because these trail rides have been a part of his life each year for most of the 45 years of the CA’s existence. Honorary members Red Steagall, Steve Todd and Griff Carnes added a lot of music, fun and stories about past trail rides. Special guests included Greg Brown, Publisher of Cowboys and Indians Magazine, and Chris Gooch and Ari Schwartz with the Men’s Arts Council (MAC) of the Phoenix Art Museum.
Many of the wives joined in the fun at the camp site the last evening for a cow camp dinner and to thank the cowboys, cook and ranch managers for taking such good care of their fellas. First, they enjoyed a tour of the Dixon Creek headquarters. They got a little more excitement than they expected when upon their arrival at camp, they were “lucky” enough to see two large rattlesnakes that had been killed in camp earlier in the afternoon.
The wives were glad to be on hand at sunset for a time-honored trail ride tradition. The artists, guests and cowboys gathered around the campfire as Red Steagall, Bill Nebeker and Oreland Joe played their guitars and sang old favorites.
The entire Cowboy Artists of America organization extends its heartfelt thanks to owners Anne and John Marion, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Leathers (managers of all the Burnett 6666 Ranches), John “Bubba” Smith and all the Dixon Creek cowboys for the good horses and gear, great food and never-to-be-forgotten experiences, generously shared with the artists and their guests. God bless you all.
Learn more about the 6666: http://www.6666ranch.com/